Monday, September 07, 2009

Housing gives boost to HBCU six-year grad rates

Note: This is part one in Rattler Nation’s three-part special report on “Dorms and Degrees.”

The historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that exceeded the national average six-year graduation rate in 2007 (53 percent) tended to have something in common: they housed the majority of their students on-campus.

Arkansas Baptist has perfect grad rate

Arkansas Baptist College, a private Little Rock institution that serves about 600 students, led all HBCUs with a perfect 100 percent six-year degree baccalaureate completion rate. It houses 56 percent of its student body on campus.

President Fitz Hill also calls attention to the fact that the college offers “one of the most affordable tuitions in Arkansas.” 79.2 percent receive Pell Grants, which shows why it’s important to keep attendance costs low.

Spelman, Morehouse, Howard, and Fisk’s on-campus housing percentages ranged from 52 percent to 97 percent. All those institutions have six-year graduation rates that meet or exceed the national average. However, family income levels also play a very important role at those schools’ graduation rates. At all those colleges, less than half the student body receives Pell Grants. That means that those students’ parents are in a better position to help them pay for credit hours and finish quickly.

ECSU leads all public HBCUs

Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina topped all public HBCUs with its 50.7 percent six-year graduation rate. It houses 59 percent of its students. 69.9 percent of its students receive Pell Grants.

At a recent HBCU conference in the nation’s capital, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlighted ECSU as an example of an HBCU that offers a strong model for others to follow.

Unlike the Florida legislature, North Carolina lawmakers pay for housing construction at public universities such as ECSU. ECSU is also leasing rooms at the “Microtel” motel close to campus in order to provide even more beds for students. The university adjusted its shuttle routes to serve the motel and provided microwaves and refrigerators for the students living there.

FAMU performs comparatively well

FAMU actually performed well among the HBCUs that have very little housing. FAMU only has enough beds to house 20 percent of its students on campus. But even with that problem, it managed to post a higher six-year graduation rate than many other HBCUs that have more campus beds and lower percentages of Pell Grant recipients.

While speaking to HBCU presidents, Duncan warned that “just like other institutions of higher education, HBCUs cannot explain away big differences in graduation rates simply by reference to the usual suspects. The management practices of those colleges have to be part of the explanation -- and part of the solution.”

Below are two examples of common practices that many HBCUs will have to address in addition to housing shortages.

Poorly thought-out tuition policies

FAMU is an example of an HBCU at which the Board of Trustees is harming the graduation rate with its poor policy decisions. FAMU’s housing shortage makes college very expensive for the student body. Most FAMU students come from families that make $30,000 or less per year. But the BOT simply ignores that fact and continues to approve big tuition and fee hikes that students can’t afford. That forces most FAMU students to take smaller course loads, which slows down their progress toward graduation.

Open-admissions policies

Texas Southern University, which has an 11.6 percent six-year graduation, needs more than just additional campus beds. That’s why the university ended its previous open-admission policy last year.

Now all Texas Southern applicants are required to graduate from high school with a minimum 2.0 GPA and take the ACT and/or SAT (no minimum score). Students who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class will be automatically admitted. Any student who does not meet the University’s minimum requirements will still have the opportunity to enroll at the after successfully completing a conditional summer academic program.

These changes are sure to raise Texas Southern’s graduation rate in the future.

Data Sources: Ed Trust and Campus Explorer.

Click on chart to enlarge


Anonymous said...

I agreed with the content of this blog. The tuition and housing policies and priorities are poorly conceived. But these are not the only failings of Ammons and the BOT. I will also say that Ammons has brought FAMU back from the brink of disaster. But he needs to now closely examine command and control on campus and to realize that it has severe faults. He also has some very incompetent administrators in key positions. The money allocations at FAMU are terribly out of balance--academics is grossly short-changed. He has played an important role in positioning FAMU for the future, but the work is not nearly done. FAMU has a long way to go. Just as an example, this ridiculous worship of pharmacy and funneling large amounts of money to pharmacy is short-sighted. Obama wants to replace pharmacists with vending machines and pharmacy schools with vending repair trade schools. Where will FAMU be when that happens.

Anonymous said...

Rattler Nation,
I truly appreciate your desire to examine these issues more closely. I agree wholeheartedly that the administration should make every effort to enhance the infrastructure of the campus to address today's student enrollment and the many technological advances. However, I don't think it's fair to compare FAMU to many of the HBCUs on the list. We are a publicly funded school that is several times larger than some of the other schools you highlight, which means we can't house the majority of our students on campus.

Also, I serioulsy doubt anyone wants the prices of anything to increase. However, if we are to remain competitive with other schools in and out of state, we have to raise tuition some. As much as we complain about the tuition, our tuition (at FAMU and the other SUS colleges/universities) is still among the lowest in the nation. I met a young woman recently who attends BCU (our sister institution); she shared with me that she pays nearly 20K a year to attend that school. Trust me, our tuition is much more affordable than we think.

Now how we spend and allocate our funds, that's a different story.

Anonymous said...

The tuition in other states might be lower but places like ECSU are cutting down the overall cost of school by housing their students.

Students who live in on-campus housing can afford to pay more than students who are living off campus.

FAMU isn't being competitive when it hikes its tuition up and then fails house these students. We're just killing the university's graduation rate because we already know the students are just going to have to cut down their credit hours.

Anonymous said...

Florida's tuition needs to rise and is extremely low (50th in the nation). Low tuition limits the state's and university's ability to do other things.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Florida is going through one hell of a tough economic crisis and cut university's already meager budgets by 16% this year.

Many of our students aren't financially prepared to come to college. That along with having a serious need to rebalance their priorities.

Anonymous said...

Just because Florida's tuition is lower than most other state's doesn't the total cost of attendance at Florida's public universities is lower. The lack of housing makes Florida's cost of attendance higher despite its lower tuition.

States like NC provide lots of housing and that cuts down the cost of living. Of course students who are living in on-campus housing can pay more in tuition.

In Florida most students have to pay for an off campus apartment. That drives the cost of living up. You can't compare their ability to pay for classes with those students who are paying much cheaper rental fees in the dorms.

And raising up tuition isn't going help as long as the state keeps on taking three times that much money away in budget cuts. Remember that the legislature gave FAMU the ability to charge $4.4M more in tuition (which President Ammons says is an unrealistic number) but then took away $13.1M from the budget.

Anonymous said...

What FAMU needs is more donors and less complainers!

Anonymous said...

3:03 PM

Then FAMU needs to setup up call centers and mail outs to all their alumni asking for money. Maybe do some actual marketing for a change...

Anonymous said...

Does the collective wisdom of the people who contribute to this blog think it would help to have a fund raising campaign just to raise funds for the construction and renovation of on campus housing? Perhaps to use any funds in excess of expenses for paid events at the new teaching gym for such a fund.

By the way when is the university going to come up with a capital campaign? What is our vice president for advancement planning for fund raising? I agree we need to dare to be great but when you do the math to raise 1 million dollars you need 1000 people to donate 1000 dollars, or 100 people to donate 10000 dollars. These small donor campaigns are not going to raise the dollars to build student housing. Is it unreasonable to expect a bit more from a 200K + VP which has been here for 3 years with a staff of 30?

Anonymous said...

The VP for U.R. hasn't been here for 3 years. Your friend Ronald Joe held the job for the first year of the Ammons admin.

Then came the economic slow down, followed by a dam near depression! Get off her case.