By Darrell Hunt
T he typical college-bound high school graduate has many factors to consider when choosing which post-secondary institution to attend. Various factors about the institution-size, region, weather, athletics, financial aid, proximity to home town, parental influence-may serve as determinants. For African American students, other factors such as cultural heritage, an institution's reputation for minority student treatment, and political orientation may have significant importance in the decision making process. While this process may cause a significant amount of psychic malaise, it is generally assumed once a decision is made that matriculation and graduation will follow. Yet this assumption, that one will graduate, is not a given, particularly for African American students.
Only 37% of all Black students who enrolled as first-year students in the years 1986 to 1989 graduated within six years as compared to 59% of Whites. Over the six-year period from 1989-1995, the graduation rates were 35% and 43% for Black men and Black women, respectively. Nationwide, only 14.6% of African Americans in the United States have a four-year college degree. Given these percentages, an institution's record for graduating minority students may begin to be a significant factor in the college decision-making process. As graduation potential increases in significance, historically Black colleges and universities may become more prominent options for African American students.
The likelihood of an African American college student graduating within six years of institutional matriculation is greater if that student attends a historically Black college or university (HBCU) as opposed to a traditionally White institution (TWI). While approximately 17% of Black undergraduates attend HBCUs, 28.2% of African-Americans who receive bachelor's degrees receive them from historically Black colleges and universities. At some traditionally White institutions, the percentage point differences in graduation rates between African-Americans and White students is greater than 20 points. For instance, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduates 86% of its White students, the institution only graduates 64% of its African American student population. For more highly-ranked TWI's, the difference are smaller. Harvard University graduates 97% of its White students and 95% of its Black students within six years of matriculation. On average, for those universities rated in the top twenty-five schools in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, the percentage point difference in graduation rate is 12.5 percent. African American students may fare better at America's top liberal arts colleges which have an average percentage point difference of 8.8 percent. Although these statistics may not appear encouraging, recent trends in African American graduation numbers provide appreciable positive influence.
Over 19,000 more African Americans received baccalaureate degrees in 1992 compared to 1991. There were 64,556 Black graduates in 1991 and 84,108 Black graduates in 1995. Black women have had the greatest impact on this 30.2% increase. For Black men, there has been an incremental increase of 2,000 new baccalaureates a year; for Black women, there has been an incremental increase of 4,000 new baccalaureates a year. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) is the top producer of Black baccalaureates increasing its number of degrees conferred from 463 in 1991 to 1,222 in 1995.
As other historically Black colleges and universities seek to follow FAMU's lead, HBCU's may play an even more prominent role in the lives and graduation rates of African American students.
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