Penn GSE and the Center for Minority Serving Institutions Announce Publication of The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Thursday, May 9, 2013
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Contact: Kat Stein, Penn GSE Exec. Director of Communications / (215) 898-9642

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A new report sets the record straight on HBCUs and the outsized role they play an in educating the nation’s historically underserved populations.

Philadelphia, PA, May 9, 2013 – The nation’s 105 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are impressive centers of diversity, educating students across the ethnic and socioeconomic spectrum. And yet, these institutions have languished at the margins of most meaningful conversations about higher education, with many facing serious financial crises and often subject to criticism for their low retention and graduation rates. In a report released today, The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Dr. Marybeth Gasman, one of the country’s leading authorities on HBCUs, sets the record straight. The publication details the disproportionately large role that these colleges and universities play in educating historically underserved populations and considers many of the challenges and opportunities they face.

The report focuses on three key areas—students, leadership, and fundraising—identifying where HBCUs lead their national counterparts and where they lag behind. As Gasman outlines, HBCUs represent only 3 percent of colleges and universities in the United States, but they enroll 11 percent of the Black student population and serve a disproportionate number of first-generation and low-income (Pell Grant-eligible) students. The reach of HBCUs extends to other minority populations, whose enrollment at these institutions has increased significantly. For example, since 1980, Hispanic and Latino enrollment at HBCUs has jumped 123 percent, and Asian enrollment has increased by 60 percent. White enrollment has remained a steady 13 percent for the past 20 years.

The report offers detailed information about student graduation and retention rates. “Often data on retention and graduation show HBCUs lagging behind their national counterparts,” says Gasman, “but the disconnect reflects less on the institutions themselves than on the tendency in the United States to invest in students who need the least help instead of those who need the most.” She adds that “it’s important to keep in mind that most HBCUs are in the South, where all but four states have graduation rates below the national average.”

The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities also tackles an issue that most HBCUs have until recently been reticent to address: institutional support for their gay, lesbian, and transgender students. Today, 21 of the 105 HBCUs have established student organizations supporting LGBT groups, but they continue to fall behind their national counterparts in this area of equity.

Commenting on the report, Dr. David Wilson, President of Morgan State University, an HBCU located in Baltimore, Maryland, said, “Our vitality going forward will depend on our ability to garner appropriate resources from our alumni, states, the federal government, and philanthropic communities, and to attract bold and visionary leaders to enable us to move closer to the nucleus of American higher education. With this report, Professor Gasman and her research team show the nation what we as a genre of institutions are doing to keep America strong and what actions we must take to remain a robust and relevant source of higher education in the United States.”

Established in the decades following the Civil War, HBCUs were the only higher education option for most African Americans until the mid-1960s. Many people are familiar with a handful of elite HBCUs—Morehouse, Howard, and Spelman, for example—but are unaware that there are 105 HBCUs in the United States, most located in the South, and all of them with a rich cultural and educational heritage. Many influential African Americans attended HBCUs, including talk show host Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University) and former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher (Morehouse, ’63).

For the complete report go to:

Dr. Gasman is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her research has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Newsweek, and on CNN and National Public Radio.

Penn GSE is one of the nation’s premier research education schools. A small percentage of education programs in the U.S. offer doctoral degrees, a tiny fraction are located at flagship research universities, and no other education school enjoys a university environment as supportive of practical knowledge building as the University of Pennsylvania. The School is notably entrepreneurial, launching innovative degree programs for practicing professionals and unique partnerships with local educators, not to mention the first-ever business plan competition launched exclusively in education. For further information about Penn GSE, please visit

The Center for Minority Serving Institutions brings together researchers and practitioners from across the spectrum of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to harness the collective strengths of the these institutions and to solve the challenges they face. An integral part of American higher education, MSIs include Historically Black Colleges and Universities; Tribal Colleges and Universities; Hispanic Serving Institutions; and Asian American, Native Alaskan, Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. Among the Center’s goals are to elevate the educational contributions of MSIs, ensuring their participation in national conversations; to increase rigorous scholarship on MSIs; and to bolster the efforts of MSIs to close educational achievement gaps and assessment performance of disadvantaged communities. The Center for Minority Serving Institutions is located at the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Professor Marybeth Gasman.