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Historically Black Colleges and Universities Demonstrate Positive Economic Impact

Leadership and Management

Historically Black Colleges and Universities Demonstrate Positive Economic Impact

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have long played an important role in the nation’s higher education landscape. Today, we have proof that these institutions are also playing a critical economic role in the country. According to HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a new report from the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), these institutions and their graduates make a tangible impact on both the economy and the individuals involved.

A look at the past

The report gives a succinct history of the development of HBCUs and how they came to occupy such a pivotal place in American higher education:

“Only a few colleges dedicated to educating African American students were in existence before the Civil War. After the war, and through the efforts of missionary societies, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and African American churches, these institutions began to proliferate. It would take decades, and new federal law, before states were required to provide African Americans, as well as whites, with access to higher education. But instead of integrating white-only institutions, many southern states responded by creating separate colleges and universities for African American students.”

The report continues by explaining that there are currently 101 accredited HBCUs, primarily in 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands. Most of these institutions are located in the southeast, where generating a positive economic impact is particularly important.

HBCUs enroll almost 300,000 students, some 80 percent of whom are African American. While they account for only 3 percent of public and not-for-profit institutions receiving federal student aid, they enroll 10 percent of African American college students in the country, produce 17 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned by African Americans, and account for an impressive 24 percent of the degrees earned by African Americans in STEM fields.

Measuring the impact

According to the UNCF report, HBCUs account for $14.8 billion of economic impact each year, with public HBCUs producing about two-thirds of that number. “This estimate includes direct spending by HBCUs on faculty, employees, academic programs and operation, and by students attending the institutions, as well as the follow-on effects of that spending,” the report notes. “Every dollar in spending by an HBCU and its students produces positive economic benefits, generating $1.44 in initial and subsequent spending for its local and regional economies.”

The impact is felt on both the macro level and the micro level: “For each job created on an HBCU campus, another 1.3 public- and private-sector jobs are created off campus because of HBCU-related spending.” This is a tremendous boon for the regions where the institutions are located. However, even more impressive is the individual impact felt by the graduates: “An HBCU graduate working full time throughout his or her working life can expect to earn $927,000 in additional income due to a college credential.”

Michael L. Lomax, UNCF president and CEO, describes the impact like this: “[HBCUs] are a powerful economic engine: locally, through the jobs they create and the expenditures they make in the cities where they are located, and nationally, through the students they educate and prepare for an information-age workforce.”

Brian Bridges, UNCF’s vice president of research and member engagement, adds, “The education that HBCUs provide to their students, many of them from low-income families and the first in their family to attend college, helps the national economy fill critical jobs with college-educated workers who otherwise would not acquire the stills and knowledge necessary to compete in the evolving workforce.”

Clearly, HBCUs continue to play an important role in the nation’s economic health and the success of the individuals who graduate from these institutions. They continue to fulfill their historic mission to help African American students become successful members of and important contributors to a thriving society.

“The student demonstrates conclusively that HBCUs are not only relevant to the country’s economic health and vigor, they are necessary,” Lomax concludes.

This report was summarized with permission of UNCF. Download the complete report here:



Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is the editor of Academic Leader and the chair of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference. She is the author of Lecture Is Not Dead: Ten Tips for Delivering Dynamic Lectures in the College Classroom and The Care and Motivation of the Adjunct Professor.


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