As Adam Harris writes in his 2021 book, The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal—And How to Set Them Right: “America’s colleges and universities have a dirty open secret: they have never given Black people an equal chance to succeed.” Despite long-standing systemic challenges and the small average size of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), these institutions have an impact significantly greater than one would expect and perform a critical function for Black students. Nationally, HBCUs annually generate more than 130,000 jobs and almost $15 billion in total economic impact for their local and regional economies.

This memo presents new national survey data that shed light on how Black student loan borrowers who attended HBCUs differ from their Black peers at predominately white institutions (PWIs) and confirms that HBCUs provide a unique and positive educational experience for Black students. The data reveal that Black borrowers who attended HBCUs report that they had six important experiences significantly more often than their peers who attended PWIs.

These “Big Six” experiences include:

  1. Having at least one professor who made them excited about learning,
  2. Feeling that professors cared about them as a person,
  3. Having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue goals and dreams,
  4. Working on a project that took a semester or more to complete,
  5. Having an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom, and
  6. Being extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations during college.

About This Project

This memo is part of a mixed-methods project that compares the financial experiences of Black student loan borrowers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with their Black peers at predominately white institutions (PWIs) as well as with their white peers. The project includes several memos including survey toplines, policy recommendations, focus group takeaways, and a memo on the HBCU student experience. This project was a collaboration between the Center for Responsible Lending, and the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the United Negro College Fund with support from the African American Research Collaborative and Hart Research. Generous funding from the Lumina Foundation made this research possible, and you can learn more at MyYardMyDebt.Org.

Learn more about the 2021 national survey that shows strong support for student loan cancellation among black students.