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The Returns on an HBCU Education

The Review of Black Political Economy just published a new article entitled “The Relative Returns to Graduating from a Historically Black College/University: Propensity Score Matching Estimates from the National Survey of Black Americans.” The authors include economists Gregory Price (Morehouse College), William Springs (Howard University), and Omari Swinton (Howard University). Relying on data from the National Survey of Black Americans, the paper adds to the growing literature on the labor market outcomes of higher education, specifically HBCU’s.

Price, Springs and Swinton found that HBCU’s afford their “graduates relatively superior long-run labor market outcomes.” This, they say, is in contrast to a recent study by Roland Fryer and Michael Greestone (2010), which found that the relative returns on graduating from an HBCU are negative. Unlike Fryer and Greenstone’s, this new study does not conclude that HBCU’s retard black students’ progress. In fact, Price, Springs, and Swinton found that HBCU graduates have higher earning potential relative to non-HBCU African American graduates. As a result, the authors claim that their research shows that HBCUs “continue to have a compelling educational justification.” The results of this new study also complement the recent research of Mykeresi and Mills (2008), who found that HBCU’s have a positive impact on the long-run labor market earnings of African-American males.

Price, Springs, and Swinton also found that HBCU’s have a “comparative advantage in nurturing the self-image, self-esteem, and identity of their graduates.” This finding complements previous longitudinal research conducted in the 1980s (Fleming, 1984) and 1990s (Allen, Epps, and Haniff, 1991). For decades, HBCUs have been found to enhance and build self-esteem. This is one reason why they produce so many students who pursue graduate and professional studies.

Price, Springs, and Swinton’s research contradicts the perspectives of some commentators, who have questioned the existence, mission, and impact of HBCU’s in recent months. Hopefully, these commentators will take the time to review this new research the next time they write about HBCU’s. Looking at all of the research on HBCU’s presents a richer and more complex picture of their impact on African-American students.

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