Rutgers GSE CMSI

New Report Shows that Historically Black Colleges are Producing More Upwardly Mobile Graduates than Predominantly White Institutions

New Brunswick, N.J., September 30, 2019—More students experience upward mobility at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) than Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) asserts a new report published by the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). The report entitled, Moving Upward and Onward: Income Mobility at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, examines the intergenerational income mobility of recent HBCU graduates and explores upward mobility variations and economic stratification based on institution type.
The report begins with a foreword by Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough, which provides an important narrative on how HBCUs have routinely supported low-income and Pell Grant-eligible students. Kimbrough situates the value of these storied institutions within the historical context of higher education. According to the report, HBCUs enroll far more low-income students than PWIs. More specifically, the report claims that nearly one-quarter of HBCU students are low-income and more than half of all HBCU students come from households in the bottom 40% of the U.S. income distribution.
“This report builds upon many researchers’ earlier work about HBCUs and their economic impact,” said Marybeth Gasman, one of the report’s authors and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. “HBCUs are doing a tremendous job fostering pathways to upward mobility, particularly for low-income students, and they are doing this with often limited resources.”
Using the student’s income as an indicator of their economic position, the report goes on to track the mobility rate of students as compared to the incomes of their parents. The report shares that nearly 70% of HBCU students attain at least middle-class incomes and most low-income HBCU students can expect to improve their long-term economic position. Some HBCUs are creating middle-class opportunities for large portions of their student body and effectively fostering upward mobility. Xavier University of Louisiana and Tuskegee University, for example, achieve higher mobility than almost any other HBCU.
“This report’s focus on the student success rate distinguishes it from other research on HBCU economic mobility. By examining students’ mobility after accounting for their origins, this report provides a more holistic understanding of economic mobility and more accurately describes the mobility trajectory of students at an HBCU,” shared Robert Nathenson, the report’s lead author.
The report adds that privilege perpetuation, what the authors call an “affluence floor,” exists across the landscape of higher education and has an impact on how affluence replication differs by institution type. Children of higher-income parents who attended PWIs were 50% more likely to stay higher-income (as compared to moving down the income distribution) than children of higher-income parents who attended HBCUs, the report concludes. These findings are consistent with research that indicates factors throughout the labor market may also play an important role in intergenerational mobility. Such factors as ongoing historical disadvantage, structural racism, and implicit bias may have an ongoing influence on the economic outcomes of students.
The report ends with recommendations for researchers looking to further explore the economic outcomes of HBCU students. Researchers are encouraged to examine the student success strategies that HBCUs have enacted to undergird upward mobility for low-income students and to examine further the life experiences of HBCU students following their graduation from college. The report’s final note pushes researchers to continue exploring the variations in practices employed by both PWIs and HBCUs and encourages PWIs to learn from HBCUs to further the experiences of their African American students.
Full copies of the report are freely available on our site here

About the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions
The Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) brings together researchers and practitioners from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. CMSI’s goals include: elevating the educational contributions of MSIs; ensuring that they are a part of national conversations; bringing awareness to the vital role MSIs play in the nation’s economic development; increasing the rigorous scholarship of MSIs; connecting MSIs’ academic and administrative leadership to promote reform initiatives; and strengthening efforts to close educational achievement gaps among disadvantaged communities. The Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions is part of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity and Justice (Proctor Institute) at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. For further information about CMSI, please visit

Monday, September 30, 2019
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