Phi Beta Cons

Do HBCUs Need a New Mission?

Jason Riley argues that they do in this Wall Street Journal column today.

A couple of points. First, it seems to be the case that earnings for HBCU graduates relative to those of other colleges and universities has fallen substantially over time. The authors of the paper that found that decline conclude, “HBCU attendance appears to retard black progress.”

Might it not be that the relative decline in earnings is at least in part explained by affirmative action? When selective schools use racial preferences to increase their “diversity,” the students they draw in are the best-prepared black students, some of whom might have gone to schools like Spelman, Howard, and Morehouse.

Second, Riley notes that Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have recently admonished HBCUs to improve their graduation rates. The trouble with that advice is that graduating should be the concern of the student. Those who can’t manage to earn enough course credits might be better off if they abandoned the quest for the degree and cut short the expenses of going to college. Obama and Duncan hold a mystical view that getting a degree is always a tremendous benefit, but for many kids (enrolled at HBCUs and other institutions), the cost of school exceeds its value.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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