Lower-income students who attend minority-serving colleges are more likely to see a jump in their economic status than are those who attend other colleges.
That’s the bottom-line finding from a new report by the American Council on Education, which crunched numbers from the Equality of Opportunity Project, the highly cited data project released last year by Raj Chetty, a Stanford University economist, and several other researchers.
The new paper, which ACE says is the first of its kind, found that income-mobility rates tend to be two to three times higher at minority-serving institutions than at non-minority-serving ones. The higher rates occur despite the fact that minority-serving colleges are educating the “country’s most vulnerable students,” the study notes, often with relatively limited budgets.
“These findings fulfill a long-held belief by those close to these institutions that MSIs are poised to meet the widespread demand for higher education by lower-income students and students of color,” Lorelle Espinosa, assistant vice president for policy research and strategy at ACE and the report’s lead author, said in a written statement.
Several categories of colleges meet the federal definition of minority serving, including historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions (with at least 25 percent of undergraduate enrollment being Hispanic students), tribal colleges and universities, and Asian-American and Native American/Pacific Islander-serving institutions, among others.
The nation’s roughly 700 minority-serving institutions in 2015 together enrolled 4.8 million students, or 28 percent of all U.S. undergraduates. These numbers are expected to grow, the study said, as nearly all projected college enrollment growth between now and 2025 will be fueled by students from racial and ethnic minorities — a group that will make up nearly half of postsecondary students within a decade.
The report looked at data for slightly more than half (359) of the nation’s minority-serving colleges, excluding tribal colleges and others based on sample size and other factors, comparing them to more than 1,500 non-minority-serving institutions.
From that sample, one in five students who were enrolled at four-year Hispanic-serving institutions and nearly one in four students enrolled at four-year predominantly black institutions and HBCUs were from families in the lowest-income quintile. Those rates were more than three times the rates at non-minority-serving institutions.
In addition, roughly half of students at four-year, minority-serving institutions covered by the report were first-generation college students.
Higher Rates, Across the Board
Using the Chetty data, the report’s authors looked at a cohort of students who were born between 1983 and 1985 and who began college sometime around the 2002-03 academic year. The data set captured the earnings of these students’ parents when the students first enrolled in college. Then it measured the income of the students themselves when they turned 30 years old.
Across all U.S. colleges, the average rate at which individual institutions move students from the lowest quintile of parental income at first enrollment to the top quintile is 1.9 percent. The ACE report found that the average of all types of four-year, minority-serving institutions top the 1.5 percent national average for non-minority-serving colleges.
Hispanic-serving institutions did particularly well, with a 4.3 percent mobility rate. Predominantly black institutions had a rate of 3.5 percent, while the HBCU rate was 2.8 percent. The rate for Asian-American and Native American/Pacific Islander-serving institutions was 3.3 percent.
ACE also used the data set to do a comparison of “extended mobility rates,” looking at the rate of students who come from the bottom two income quintiles and move to the top two income quintiles.
The average non-minority-serving college’s rate under this metric was 9.4 percent. Minority-serving institutions also topped that rate. Hispanic-serving and predominantly black institutions both had a rate of 20.8 percent, with HBCUs at 19.3 percent and Asian-American and Native American/Pacific Islander-serving institutions at 12.1 percent.
The report singled out several institutions with particularly high extended mobility rates.
The City University of New York’s Lehman College, a Hispanic-serving institution under the federal definition, had a rate of 35.5 percent. The rate for Texas A&M International University, also an HSI, was 34.1 percent.
Several CUNY institutions that are predominantly black did well on extended mobility — CUNY New York Technical College had a rate of 31.1 percent. And the University of West Alabama, a predominantly black university, had a rate of 18 percent.
Minority-serving institutions in the two-year sector also topped their peers across the board on both mobility and extended mobility rates, the report found.
Hispanic-serving community colleges, for example, had an average mobility rate of 3.2 percent (compared to 1.5 percent for non-minority-serving community colleges) and an extended rate of 17.2 percent (compared to 10.9 percent).
It’s not surprising that minority-serving colleges would outperform their peers in social mobility, ACE and other experts said, in part because they enroll far larger percentages of low-income students. But that doesn’t make the findings insignificant, said Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at Education Trust.
“This data helps make the case for strategic investment in these institutions,” Jones said. “They are doing really important work with the resources they have.”
Minority-serving colleges generally cannot charge high tuition rates, given the populations they serve. And to qualify for federal grants, they must also keep their expenditures in check.
Jones said research has identified several factors for minority-serving colleges’ comparative strength on social mobility, including the sense of belonging their student populations create and the positive impact students get from interacting with relatively large numbers of faculty members who are themselves members of minority groups — what Jones called the “importance of having a critical mass.”
As policy makers develop accountability metrics at the state and federal levels, they tend to focus on metrics of student completion, debt and repayment rates. Jones said she hopes economic mobility gets more of a look as these policies are developed.
“We have to talk about outcomes beyond that,” she said, “and include metrics like social mobility.”