The flaw at historically black colleges and universities: dreadful graduation rates

HBCUgrads

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have a long history in the United States.

They played a significant role, for example, in educating Black veterans returning from WWII. According to the journalist and historian Edward Humes, writing in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 12% of Black veterans went to college on the GI Bill, with upward of 90% of those attending HBCUs.

Now, in the wake of renewed black activism, HBCUs appear to be on a roll.

In the wake of increased calls for racial justice after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, six HBCUs, Howard University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Tuskegee University,  Hampton University, Morehouse College and Spelman College, announced in July that they had received substantial donations from MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Howard received $40 million, Hampton, $30 million, Xavier, Morehouse and Tuskegee, $20 million.

The previous month, Reed Hastings, the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, and his wife, Patty Quillin, said they were donating $120 million to Spelman College, Morehouse College and the United Negro College Fund.

Frosting on the cake came on August 11 when Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), a Howard University graduate, became the first graduate of a HBCU to become a vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic or Republican party.

“I became an adult at Howard University,” Harris told the Washington Post in 2019. “Howard very directly influenced and reinforced — equally important — my sense of being and meaning and reasons for being.”

“HBCUs have a tremendous record,” Hastings and Quillin said in a news release announcing their gifts.

The 104 HBCUs do have a good record in some things, but not in one critical area, graduation rates. Their overall performance here is abysmal and large gifts to a few HBCUs likely won’t change that.

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) has tried to sugarcoat the situation by asserting that “…in their most important function—enrolling and graduating college students—HBCUs perform far better than their small size and lack of resources would lead one to expect.” The problem is that the UNCF data is misleading.

For example, a 2018 UNCF report noted that “Florida HBCUs represent just 4 percent of the state’s four-year colleges and universities but enroll 9 percent of all black undergraduates and award 18 percent of all bachelor’s degrees to black college graduates.” More meaningful data is the graduation rate at individual HBCUs.

There are HBCUs located in 19 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents 47 public HBCUs, the graduation rate for HBCUs is only 35%.

When the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education surveyed 64 HBCUs in 2014, only five graduated more than 50 percent of their students within six years: Spelman- 69%; Howard, 65%; Hampton, 59%; Morehouse, 55%; Fisk, 52%. At seven HBCUs, fewer than one in five Black students earned a bachelor’s degree within six years.

The current U.S. Department pf Education’s College Scorecard shows an improvement in the graduation rate at Spelman, but declines at the other four schools: Spelman- 77%; Howard, 61%; Hampton, 50%; Morehouse, 52%; Fisk, 41%.

The Scorecard reports appalling graduation rate at some other HBCUs as low as:

  • Alabama State University, Montgomery, AL – 31%
  • University of the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. – 28%
  • American Baptist College, Nashville, TN – 27%
  • Shaw University, Raleigh, NC – 27%
  • Langston University, Langston. OK – 23%

Then there’s Shorter College, a private, faith-based, two-year liberal arts college in N. Little Rock, AR. The average annual cost, which includes tuition, living costs, books, and fees minus the average grants and scholarships for federal financial aid recipients, is $16,044. The college says on its website, “The goals of faculty, staff and administrators are the same: student success.” But its graduation rate is only 8%, according to the College Scorecard.

shortercommencement

In comparison, about 62% of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in the United States in the fall of 2012 completed that degree at the same institution within 6 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In other words, by 2018 some 62 percent of students had completed a bachelor’s degree at the same institution where they started in 2012.

The problem of pitiful graduation rates at so many HBCUs is compounded by the debt accrued by Black students who don’t graduate. It’s hard enough for many graduates to pay off their college debt. Median total debt after graduation from Fisk College, for example, is $28,000 – $30,000, which translates into monthly loan payments of $291- $317 on a standard 10-year payment plan.

But if a student incurs $30,000 of college debt and never earns a degree, the burden is substantially greater. When they drop out, they don’t get the better job or the wage increase that graduates get initially and over time. One result is that the default rate on federal student loans is three times higher for students who drop out without a diploma. Adding insult to injury, drop-outs in default don’t have access to federal student aid that could help them go back and finish school for a degree.

If wealthy philanthropists and HBCUs really want to help Black college students, they will put money and effort into ensuring that students graduate with a good education. HBCUs that fail this test are doing their students no favors, undercutting the very people they claim to champion, and should close.

The University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication: top notch…or not?

“You’re the top,” wrote lyricist Cole Porter. A lot of Oregonians feel that way about the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC).

SOJClogo

Graduates have a lot of pride in their school. One of the top journalism schools in the country, its champions say.

I’ve been a guest lecturer there and I’ve been impressed with the inquisitive students.

UOlecturehall

Nothing wrong with hometown pride, but does the school deserve the accolades? As a former reporter at The Oregonian, corporate communications manager and still a journalist, I wanted to know the answer.

With dead newspapers across the country, massive personnel cutbacks, and turmoil even at digital news sites, what are the prospects for the 646 students who earned a Bachelor’s degree and the 43 who earned a Master’s or PhD from the SOJC during 2018-19, one of the largest graduating classes in the program’s history?[1]

In many areas, the prospects are poor. “2019 crystallized something media people have known to be true for a while: While digital media dries out in the wake of the VC funding boom of the 2010s, and the country’s regional newspapers are swallowed by corporate consolidation and hedge fund vultures, there is very little stability to be found anywhere,” Maya Kosoff wrote on Dec. 16 in Gen, a Medium publication about politics, power, and culture. “If 2019 signaled a change, it was the realization that not only is the ship sinking, but that there aren’t any lifeboats.”

But SOJC is optimistic. “Today’s thriving creative and media economy offers a wealth of exciting career paths…,” says the SOJC’s website. “No matter which of our four majors you choose, you’ll get a strong foundation and the professional skills and connections to succeed.”

True or academic hyperbole?

wearenumberone

There are almost 500 U.S. schools with higher education journalism programs. Of those, there are 117 schools accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC), including the University of Oregon’s SOJC.

Leaving aside the question of whether a journalism degree is even a necessary prerequisite for anybody entering the field (After all, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame dropped out of the University of Maryland and Chuck Todd,  moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, dropped out of George Washington University), which undergraduate journalism school is the best?

Where does the University of Oregon’s SOJC stand in the rankings? From a mercenary point of view, which program will generate the best pay?

It’s tricky to rely solely on college ranking systems to pick the best journalism school. There are multiple ranking systems and they are all over the map in their selections and the factors they take into account. I recall one highly regarded college rating program, for example, that threw into the mix how many graduates joined the Peace Corps.

The ranking systems also change every year as ideas about how best to measure quality in education change.

U.S. News & World Report says, for example, “over time, the ranking model has put far less emphasis on input measures of quality – which look at characteristics of the students, faculty and other resources going into the educational process – and more emphasis on output measures, which look at the results of the educational process, such as social mobility, six-year graduation and first-year student retention rates.”

Niche lists the University of Oregon 101st in its “2020 Best 4-year Colleges for Communications in America.” Niche is not, however, as prestigious or as often referenced as other ratings services.

College Factual, another data analytics website for higher education, says U of O is 29th in its list of 2020 Best Journalism Colleges in the U.S.”

Journalism-Schools.com ranks the University of Oregon’s SOJC 74th in the nation.

QS World University Rankings ranks the University of Oregon 151st in North America among colleges offering Communication & Media Studies programs.

The highly regarded Forbes America’s Top Colleges 2019 places the University at #191, but doesn’t break down data by major.

Another well-regarded survey, U.S. News & World Report’s U.S. News Best Colleges, places the University of Oregon 104th among national universities, but also doesn’t rank the SOJC.

Do you go with Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications because it’s the biggest program, with 2,670 students in the fall of 2018? How about the University oi Missouri School of Journalism because it was founded in 1908 and is the oldest program? Maybe Columbia University’s Columbia Journalism School because it is uniquely positioned in the media capital of the world and is the home of the Pulitzer Prize? Or the University of Oregon because you plan to stay and work in the Northwest and the SOJC has over 17,000 alumni who could serve as contacts and mentors?

As a paper from the Knight Foundation, which promotes excellence in journalism, put it, “The best journalism school in America is … a mystery. There’s no sensible system for comparing programs or knowing if they are really healthy. The measurements schools now file…turn out to be about as useful as a jumble of mismatched socks.”

How about comparing how the graduates of journalism programs do in the workplace?

How does earning a degree from the University of Oregon’s SOJC work out in terms of finding a good job and moving up the pay ladder?

I asked the school:

  • Does the SOJC attempt to track the career paths of its graduates?
  • If yes, where are the graduates in their careers? Have the recent grads found jobs in their field of study? Are earlier grads still working in their fields of study?
  • What are SOJC grads earning?

“We love our alumni” and “Our alumni mean the world to us,” the SOJC says on its website, but it doesn’t keep track of them.

To my considerable surprise, the OSJC said it didn’t know the answers to my questions. “I can tell you that we do not have job placement data or salary data,” Andra Brichacek, then the OSJC’s  Interim Communication Director, told me earlier this year.

There are, however, other sources of data.

According to the U.S. News & World Report College Compass, median starting salaries by major for alumni of the University of Oregon are:

  • $45,300 for Journalism graduates
  • $46,500 for Public Relations and Advertising
  • $43,600 for Communication and Media Studies

College Factual, a privately-run website designed to assist in college selection, says SOJC journalism graduates earn an average of $37,000 when starting their career and $66,000 at mid-career. This compares with:

  • an average starting salary of $34,766 and a mid-career salary of $62,908 for journalism graduates across the United States.
  • an average starting salary of $36,000 and mid-career salary of $65,000 at mid-career for journalism graduates of the University of Missouri – Columbia
  • an average starting salary of $38,000 and mid-career salary of $87,000 for journalism graduates of Northwestern University.
  • An average starting salary of $44,000 and mid-career salary of $72,000 for journalism graduates of New York University.
  • An average starting salary of $41,000 and mid-career salary of $86,000 for journalism graduates of the University of Southern California.

The U.S. Department of Education is another source of earnings data.

collegescorecard

Under an Obama administration initiative, the government published schoolwide data on debt and earnings for undergraduates. In November 2019, the Trump administration expanded the program by publishing new data allowing comparisons of first-year earnings of graduates based on their college major.

Earnings were measured in 2016-2017 for students who graduated in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, which are fairly recent.

The data, released as the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, are based on information provided through federal reporting from institutions, data on federal financial aid, and tax information.

A key weakness of the Scorecard is that the earnings and debt data are based only on students who either took out a federal student loan or received a federal grant in college. Scorecard also doesn’t report the percentage of entering students at every school for which it has earnings data.

Scorecard also calculated student college loan debt to help prospective students determine their ability to repay it considering their expected earnings after graduation.

According to Scorecard, median annual earnings of bachelor’s degree SOJC graduates in their first job were $27,800; for SOJC graduates with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, Advertising and Applied Communication median annual earnings were $36,200.

This compares with median annual earnings in their first job of:

  • $37,300 for journalism graduates and $33,900 for Communication and Media Studies graduates of the University of Missouri – Columbia.
  • $42,000 for journalism graduates and $42,600 for Communication and Media Studies graduates of Northwestern University.
  • $33,500 for journalism graduates and $42,900 for Communication and Media Studies graduates of Boston University
  • $40,600 for journalism graduates and $39,200 for Communication and Media Studies graduates of the University of Southern California.

Then there’s a database is provided by Payscale, a salary negotiation tool. Their College Salary Report database provides self-reported earnings data by college for alumni who use their website tool.

Only nonprofit or public schools for which PayScale has a statistically significant sample are included.  Salary figures combine base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, overtime, and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable.

Based upon PayScale survey data*, students graduating from the University of Oregon with accredited degrees in Journalism realize early-career earnings of $37,201 and mid-career earnings of $66,153.

For comparison, students graduating from the University of Missouri – Columbia Based with a degree in Journalism will have average early-career earnings of $36,000 and average mid-career earnings of $65,000.

What else might be relevant in comparing programs?

College Scorecard shows how much student loan debt people can expect to owe based on their choice of major. Not only is that useful information overall, but the presumption is that the lower the ratio of student debt to income is for a given major, the higher the value of the investment in that major.

At the University of Oregon, median total debt for graduates with a degree in journalism is $21,030. For graduates with a degree in public relations, advertising and applied communication it is $21,500.

Compare that with the University of Missouri – Columbia: median total debt for students with a degree in Journalism is $23,250 and median earnings are $37,300; median total debt for students with a degree in Communication and Media Studies is $23,250 and median earnings are $33,900.

So, now where does the University of Oregon’s SOJC stand? Hard to tell.

First, it needs to be understood that the ranking programs are unreliable. No matter what the ranking factors and algorithms, it’s been widely reported that schools game the system and falsify data. There have been efforts, for example, to manipulate faculty salary reports, alter reported class sizes, highlight academic expenditures and minimize administrative overhead, and even give low ratings to competing schools and programs.

In 2019, Richard Vetter, who had administered Forbes’ Best Colleges rankings, wrote a Forbes article, Are Universities Increasingly Liars And Con Artists,” I think one consequence of the moral decline is that universities increasingly lie and cheat, both their customers (students) and the general public,” he wrote.

Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness wrote in Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education that universities engaged in a wide range of highly deceptive marketing and other practices that were  morally untenable.

With all this understood, the University of Oregon’s SOJC probably isn’t at the top overall, but for an individual student it might be.

I’m not trying to be wishy-washy. I know that, as with talk radio hosts, nuance can be difficult for an opinion writer.

But just an evocative photo of a bucolic campus doesn’t tell the whole story about a college, ratings are only part of the story.  Evidence suggests enrolling at a top-tier university with a highly ranked journalism/communications program isn’t necessarily key to getting a good education or having a successful career in those fields.

While there is some evidence that a college’s quality (or its reputation for quality) can have an impact on professional success, it may be a massive institutional deceit that obtaining a journalism degree at one well-regarded college versus another school is critical.

A research effort by Gallup, in partnership with Purdue University and Lumina Foundation, found there’s no difference in subsequent workplace engagement or a college graduate’s well-being if they attended a highly selective institution or a top 100-ranked school in U.S. News & World Report.

The study found it was students who were closely engaged with faculty or participated in an internship-type program who were more likely to be engaged at work and have high well-being after graduation.

The study also found a relationship between the level of student debt and a graduate’s well-being and working experience. “It turns out that student debt…hinders the individual life prospects of students who borrow too much of it,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

In addition, graduates who had at least one professor who made them excited about learning, cared about them as a person, and was a mentor, had more than double the odds of being engaged at work and thriving in well-being.

Then there was the time-to-graduation factor. The Gallup-Purdue research revealed that graduates who finished their degrees in four years doubled their odds of being engaged at work and that more thrived.

So, despite my plan to reach a firm conclusion on where the University of Oregon’s SOJC stands in the panoply of options, I’m going to leave you a bit up in the air with, “It depends.”

You will have to just gather all the needed information and decide for yourself.

As the leadership scholar Robert Greenleaf observed, “On an important decision one rarely has 100% of the information needed for a good decision no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And, if one waits too long, he has a different problem and has to start all over.”

__________________________________

[1]

Bachelor’s degrees by concentration:

Journalism: 141

Advertising: 308

Media Studies: 16

Public Relations: 218

 

Master’s and PhDs by concentration:

Advertising and Brand Responsibility: 11

Journalism: 10

Media Studies: 4

Multimedia Journalism: 8

Strategic Communication: 10

Source: University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication

 

Benefit corporations: no sure thing

Lots of progressives in Oregon are big on public affirmations of goodness. That’s why they love the idea of benefit corporations, such as Neil Kelly, Rogue Creamery, Metropolitan Group, Medolac and Good Clean Love.

But before Oregonians conclude that benefit corporations are by their nature more socially responsible businesses, think again, and do some rigorous research. The fact is, in some cases the designation is being used as little more than a way to add a patina of respectability to otherwise questionable firms.

For a truly inauthentic attempt at sincerity and goodness, look no further than Laureate Education, Inc. It announced plans earlier this year its plans to do a $1 billion initial public offering (IPO) that would make it the first publicly traded benefit corporation.

If you’ve heard of Laureate, it may be because of its connection to former president Bill Clinton. In 2010, he signed on to become an “Honorary Chancellor”, or paid shill to be more accurate, for Laureate. In return for serving as a front man for the privately held for-profit education company, Clinton collected $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014. Laureate also has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

In its IPO prospectus, Laureate says, “we may take actions that we believe will benefit our students and the surrounding communities, even if those actions do not maximize our short- or medium-term financial results.” There’s little in its history, however, that suggests such an approach is part of the company’s DNA.

“We recognized the enormous importance that society places on education as a public good,” said Douglas L. Becker, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Laureate. “This inspired us to create a culture that combines the ‘head’ of a business enterprise with the ‘heart’ of a non-profit organization. “

With one million students studying online and on campuses at 88 institutions in 28 countries, Laureate is currently a private company, but it plans to go public. The company grew out of the K-12 tutoring company, Sylvan Learning Systems, in 2004 when Sylvan was spun off.

Laureate was taken private in a $3.8 billion deal in 2007. Investors included KKR & Co., Soros Fund Management, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors, Citi Private Equity, Sterling Capital and others, all investors whose commitment to corporate citizenship and the public good is unclear.

Registration as a public benefit corporation is also no guarantee that the governance of a company will be friendly to shareholders.

Steven Davidoff Solomon, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, has pointed out that Laureate’s form of governance is especially unfriendly to shareholders. While Laureate is listing its stock as a public benefit corporation, it will also be going public with dual-class stock, which will maintain its current owners’ control over the company. This includes K.K.R. which will indirectly hold a greater than 10 percent interest in the company.

This doesn’t make sense, Solomon argues. K.K.R. is out to sell its stake at the highest price possible, not benefit other causes. So one has to wonder how strongly Laureate will even pay heed to the public benefit standard.

Then there’s the question of whether Laureate’s schools operate in the best interests of their students.

It’s 5 schools in the U.S. include: NewSchool of Architecture & Design, San Diego, CA; Santa Fe University of Art & Design, Santa Fe, NM; Kendall College, Chicago, Il; University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, St. Augustine, FL; and the online-only Walden University, Minneapolis, MN.

newschool

Consider their records on the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, an online system designed to help students, parents and advisers make better college choices.

For example, according to the Scorecard:

  • The average annual net cost of attending NewSchool is about twice the national average, only 50 percent of students return after their first year and the graduation rate after six years is only 33 percent.
  • The average annual net cost of attending Kendall College is more than twice the national average, only 57 percent of students return after their first year and the graduation rate after six years is only 45 percent.
  • At the Santa Fe University of Art & Design, only 31 percent of the students graduate within six years and only about half of those graduates subsequently earned, on average, more than those with only a high school diploma.

Laureate also operated The National Hispanic University in East San Jose, CA, but it closed in August 23, 2015. The San Jose Mercury News attributed the closure to the U.S. Department of Education reducing financial aid and online opportunities for students enrolled in programs that did not offer good prospects for employment. Other media reported that the school also failed to meet its goals in enrollment for online coursework.

It will be interesting to see how this company, that has a history of questionable payments to Bill Clinton, is $4.7 billion in debt, is burdened with high interest payments, has lost money every year since 2010 and has a habit of saddling its students with debt and low graduation rates pulls off its public benefit corporation charade.

It may be a hard lesson for a lot of true believers in benefit corporations.