Dillard sophomore Khaelyn Jackson on bed with laptop and study materials.
Dillard sophomore Khaelyn Jackson now has an internet connection in her New Orleans home, but she struggled with online classes when the pandemic closed campus. Her story is featured in the latest issue of Lumina Snapshot.

HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, are centers of academic excellence and community-building, and committed advocates for racial equity and social justice.

Today, three of these institutions are pioneering new ways to work together to increase students’ success. With support from Lumina Foundation, Dillard University, Howard University, and Morgan State University have partnered to improve student retention and graduation rates.

In a webinar on June 25 at 2 p.m., ET, all three university presidents will share what they’ve learned and achieved during the course of this four-year grant, and will discuss how they’re leading during the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide calls for racial justice. To join us, register here.

Engines for talent

Established after the Civil War to educate formerly enslaved people and expanded by the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, HBCUs are a powerful engine of Black learning and talent. Despite making up only 3% of U.S. colleges and universities, HBCUs enroll 10% of all African American students and produce almost 20% of all African American graduates each year. HBCUs produce nearly a quarter of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees awarded to Black students. A recent National Science Foundation study found that HBCUs fill every slot in the top 10 “baccalaureate-origin institutions” for Black students earning doctoral degrees in science and engineering.

HBCUs do better at graduating Black students than predominantly white institutions—between 6 and 16 percent better. And as described in Lumina’s Snapshot, HBCUs go above and beyond for students, many of whom find not only a great learning environment but a welcoming social and cultural home.

Partnering for success

To address equity gaps that persist nationwide, Lumina launched the HBCU Student Success Initiative in 2016 with Dillard, Howard and Morgan State. The universities—each unique but with a shared commitment to student success—collaborated over four years to improve student retention and increase graduation rates.

They were hand-selected for this program. Lumina Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Danette Howard, Ph.D., reached out to nearly a dozen HBCUs, seeking presidents who were interested in collaborating and innovating, and personally committed to student success.

The chosen universities then set goals, aiming to improve rates for freshmen completing 30 credit hours, retention rates from first to second and second to third years, and on-time and six-year completion rates. To achieve these goals, the HBCUs improved student advising, tutoring and guidance—with the help of predictive analytic tools—and added programs supporting second-to-third year retention.

The HBCU teams also focused on specific groups of students, particularly Pell-eligible learners who were less likely to keep going and graduate. While most students enrolled at HBCUs are African American, they are not a monolith; they arrive on campus with vastly different financial and academic needs.

With personal attention, increased guidance and improved programs, retention and completion rates at the HBCUs improved and continue to show progress. Better advising and support mean students now get help when they need it. And instead of falling into the “sophomore slump,” second-year students stay engaged through new opportunities for research projects, internships and campus programs.

Presidential leadership has proven vital in the success of this work. The three presidents have not only provided the vision for transformational work, but have served as stable, steady hands guiding the ship. Their work is far from over; Dillard, Howard, and Morgan State continue to partner and innovate. The key is keeping student success at the heart of their combined efforts.

Join us to learn more

To learn more about the vital role that HBCUs play, join us Thursday, June 25 at 2 p.m. ET for a lively conversation with Howard University President Wayne Frederick, M.D., Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough, Ph.D., and Morgan State University President David Wilson, Ph.D, moderated by Lumina Foundation’s Danette Howard, Ph.D. They will also talk about leading higher education through the pandemic crisis, economic turmoil, and racial injustice.


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