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Three Reasons Why Low HBCU Graduation Rates Are A Myth That Harms Black Schools

A crowd of students dressed in graduation gowns and caps cheer during Howard University's ceremony.
Jose Luis Magana
Associated Press File
In this Saturday, May 7, 2016 file photo, students cheer as President Barack Obama delivers the commencement speech during the 2016 Howard University graduation ceremony in Washington. Historically Black colleges and universities, such as Howard, have been saddled with the perception of low graduation rates, but research is showing that these statistics are actually similar to all colleges across the country.

It's been said over time that historically Black colleges and universities have low graduation rates. Professor and writer Ivory Toldson said that's often not only a mis-read of statistics, but an unfair and biased assessment of HBCUs.

Toldson Found American Colleges Overall Have A Similar Graduation Rate

Toldson saw a story citing low graduation rates at HBCUs in the 20% range. But the story did not compare HBCUs to all colleges and universities. So Toldson did that comparison, wanting to compare '"apples to apples". He found all colleges and universities had roughly the same 20% graduation rate.

Low Graduation Rates Don't Necessarily Mean Poor Academic Performance

It might just mean students are struggling financially. Toldson said a much higher than average percentage of HBCU students are low-income, and they qualify for Pell Grants designed for low-income families. "The last time I looked, above 70% of all students are Pell eligible,” he said.

Many leave school just because they run out of money.

The Low Graduation Rate Myth Hurts Recruitment

Toldson said unfairly assessed low graduation rates “can hurt recruitment quite a bit at HBCUs.” He said such statistics can scare away students with exceptional academic and athletic potential, who might also come from families with greater financial stability. He said all those elements can affect graduation rates.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at You can follow him on Twitter @bzeeble.

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