Collaboration beats competition: HBCUs work together for student success
Student Supports

Collaboration beats competition: HBCUs work together for student success

By Haley Glover, Toya Barnes-Teamer, and Cristen Moore

With rising costs and tightening resources amid debate over the value of a college degree, competition across higher education is fierce. But what happens when a few colleges and universities decide to collaborate instead?

The answer: improved student success.

Three historically black colleges and universities—Dillard University in New Orleans, Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Morgan State University in Baltimore—have seized the opportunity to partner on behalf of students.

The collaboration started in September 2016 when Lumina Foundation launched the HBCU Student Success Initiative to significantly improve student outcomes. Lumina chose Dillard (a private, historically Black liberal arts university), Howard (a private, federally chartered historically Black university) and Morgan State (a public, historically Black research university), based on their exceptionally committed leadership and focus on elevating student success.

These very different universities (both in size and mission) set aside their competitive natures to address common barriers that keep students from achieving their academic goals.

Blueprint For Success

For instance, working collaboratively, all three schools created second-year programs to help retain sophomores and ensure their academic success. Traditionally, this can be a tough year, as students make decisions about their majors and future careers. Here is what each school did:

  • Dillard University took a comprehensive approach to enhance the level of campus engagement for second-year students. This included creating the Second-Year Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), which increased the number of sophomores partnering with faculty on independent research and ultimately participating in the annual Undergraduate Research Competition.
  • Howard University made sure that its ‘Second Year Experience: Mecca Made’ offered a community of academic support and resources for second-year students. This program is now a focus of the school’s Center for Tutoring and Learning Support Services, resulting in improved performance in gateway mathematics and other courses that had been barriers for moving to the junior year.
  • Morgan State University focused its Second Year Experience Program (SYE) on ensuring that all sophomores have experiential learning opportunities, such as internships. Second-year students who finished the SYE Program in 2018–2019 returned to Morgan State for their third year at a rate of 94 percent.

How did Dillard, Howard and Morgan State achieve this? And how will they continue to partner for student success? They adopted these practices:

  • Share best practices. Close collaboration meant sharing vital lessons learned among the schools, specifically in the areas of predictive analytics and the development of Second Year Experience (SYE) programs that help ensure that sophomores thrive.
  • Make data-based decisions. While HBCUs serve many students of color, each institution dove deeper into their data to better understand all their students, with a special focus on increasing retention of specific student groups. This also reinforced the importance of data-informed decisions.
  • Remember our common mission, but different needs. HBCUs have a common mission, but each has individual goals and needs. So, a “one size fits all” approach wasn’t effective when dealing with vendors and other stakeholders. Personalized approaches are showing better results.
  • Get everyone involved in student success. Though all three university presidents are deeply committed to student success, it takes a village—or in this case, an entire campus community—to make it work. Engaging in this initiative over the past three years increased awareness that student success is truly everyone’s business.
  • Build trust. Fostering trust is an essential step in collaboration. Not every idea, policy or practice will garner the best results or be implemented with ease. Trust allows partners to act with confidence, knowing their counterparts are there with guidance and support. The campus teams on this project have developed a valuable comradery.

While their work is far from over, Dillard, Howard and Morgan State are paving the way to greater results with their unique partnership. They say the key, quite simply, is keeping student success at the heart of their combined efforts.

Toya Barnes-Teamer, Ph.D., is a principal with HCM Strategists.
Cristen Moore is a senior associate with HCM.

Back to News