Inside Higher Ed reported this week that a new document from the National Science Foundationsays that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) educate a disproportionate share of African American women and men who go on to earn Ph.D.s in the STEM fields. (STEM = science, technology, engineering, and math.) In some ways, this is not surprising: given the data we have about the greater percentages of graduate degrees among women who attended women’s colleges, it would make a lot of sense that African American students who have the opportunity to study in an environment where they are typical instead of exceptional, and where they can work with a variety of different faculty of color, would be more encouraged and better supported in their ambitions. This is a notable result in that unlike women’s colleges, which are all SLACs (small liberal arts colleges), HBCUs are a mixture of SLACs, research universities, and large state universities, so it’s not simply a question that faculty at SLACs have more time and energy to mentor their students.
The report also suggests that HBCUs are doing this despite a disproportionate lack of resources:
[Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund] said the performance of historically black colleges and universities in producing black doctorate recipients is all the more noteworthy because the institutions receive “disproportionately fewer dollars [in federal research support] than comparable institutions do.”
“When you look at the NSF dollars that go to HBCU’s, they don’t reflect the disproportionate production of graduates in the fields the NSF cares most about,” Lomax said. “It would nice to see the money reflect the kinds of disproportionately strong production that is coming out of these typically underresourced institutions.”
Commenter Shireen Lewis, the Executive Director of EduSeed asks, “why isn’t funding going to those who are getting results and making an impact?” She notes that “We at SisterMentors[one of EduSeed's projects] do not have the resources of either a predominantly white institution or a HBCU, yet in a little over 10 years, we have helped 30 women of color —- most of them Black women —- to complete their dissertations and get their doctorates. Many of these women are now professors at predominantly white universities and at HBCUs.”
Keep the roster of talent at SisterMentors in mind, if you’re doing any hiring in the next few years. The women in this program look to be mostly social scientists, and not in STEM fields, but it’s an impressive list of ABDs in any case. And, hey–NSF? Heed your study and start sending the money to places that it will do the most good–HBCUs, which tend to be underfunded anyway, and have much smaller endowments than historically white colleges and universities. They’re working for the advancement of science in the United States, and they’re getting results.