The Role of HBCUs in the College Choice Process of African Americans in California

Article excerpt

The significance of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the educational experience of African American students has been well documented. However, recent court decisions challenge these institutions' continued ability to fulfill their historical missions. Therefore, it is more vital than ever to understand the unique role played by HBCUs in the African American community, particularly in the educational plans of students and their families. The current study analyzes interview and focus-group data with African American students, parents, and counselors at 20 southern California high schools. While participants acknowledge that these institutions remain important educational and cultural resources, they also reveal surprising barriers to the accessibility of HBCUs.

Those are the colleges I can depend on. . . . we need to . . . start saving these Black Colleges 'cause that's one way that we know our children will be educated.

(The parent of an African American student)


The significance of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the educational experience of African American students has been well documented. In spite of their relative lack of resources, these institutions provide a supportive social environment conducive to personal and academic development, as evidenced in high levels of student achievement, as measured by their student persistence, graduation rates, and student satisfaction (Allen, 1992; Bonous-Hammarth & Boatsman, 1996; Fleming, 1984; Freeman, 1997; Outcalt & Skewes-Cox, 2002). For example, Jacqueline Fleming (1984) studied 2,591 African Americans attending HBCUs and predominantly White institutions and found that the students were more comfortable and successful in their HBCU environments. Moreover, African American students at HBCUs demonstrated higher academic achievement, greater college satisfaction, and had more satisfying relationships with faculty than students at the predominantly White institutions (PWIs).

Stewart notes that HBCUs "offer students a solid education in a nurturing environment-one in which their intellectual ability is not automatically questioned and their presence on campus is not part of an acrimonious debate" (Stewart, 1997, p. A24). The research conducted by Alien (1992) and Davis (1991) confirm that African American students find HBCUs provide a more positive campus climate than PWIs, which, in turn, results in their greater satisfaction with these institutions (Outcalt & Skewes-Cox, 2002).

In many cases, student satisfaction is one element that has contributed to a higher retention rate. Constantine (1994) reported HBCUs have a higher African American retention rate than historically White institutions for two primary reasons: They provide "a supportive environment" and they offer "remediation for students who need it" (cited in Jackson, 2001, p. 129). In addition, these colleges and universities are considered the school of choice for a growing percentage of African Americans. In all, approximately 300,000 students attend HBCUs (Brown & Freeman, 2002). McDonough, Trent, and Antonio (1994) noted that from 1987 to 1991, enrollments at HBCUs increased by approximately 10,000 additional students each year. In 1995, 26% of all African American students enrolled at a four-year institution attended a HBCU (Jackson, 2001). The National Center for Education Statistics (1995) reported that approximately one third of all African Americans received their bachelor's degrees from HBCUs, and these institutions continue to be the "primary undergraduate home of many Black Ph.D. recipients, army officers, federal judges, and medical doctors" (Brown & Freeman, 2002, p. 238).

Although there are no recent figures available, in 1993, the California Postsecondary Education Commission recognized that there had been "a significant out-of-state migration" to HBCUs (McDonough, Trent, & Antonio, 1994). …