HBCUs Key to Producing Black STEM Ph.D.'s, But These Grads Have Less Aid, More Debt

Washington, D.C. – New research on the educational pathways of black STEM Ph.D. holders finds that nearly a third of those from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) graduated with high levels of debt. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) also found that 72 percent of those with a STEM doctorate from an HBCU also earned their undergraduate degree at an historically black institution.

Tables showing HBCU producers of black STEM PhDs“Degrees from historically black institutions are most common among black Ph.D. recipients who are women and first-generation college students—groups that are underrepresented in STEM academia and the broader workforce,” said AIR researcher and report co-author Dr. Rachel Upton. “With that advantage, HBCUs could lead the nation’s efforts to get more black individuals in these fields.”

Despite historically black institutions’ success in attracting underrepresented groups to STEM programs, HBCU Ph.D. holders are likelier to accrue more than $30,000 in debt, the authors found. Nineteen percent of graduates of predominantly white institutions graduated owing more than $30,000, compared with 30 percent who received degrees from historically black institutions.

HBCU graduates are also less likely to receive aid compared to graduates of predominately white institutions. Fourteen percent of those who attended an HBCU through undergraduate and graduate school, and 19 percent who attended a predominantly white institution as an undergraduate and attended an HBCU for their doctorate received no funding or tuition support.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • HBCUs producing the most black STEM Ph.D. recipients include Howard University (33 percent), Meharry Medical College (14 percent) and Florida A&M University (9 percent).
  • Rankings change by discipline. For biological and biomedical sciences, the top three HBCUs producing black STEM Ph.D. recipients are Howard (45 percent), Meharry (27 percent) and Morehouse School of Medicine (8 percent). For engineering, Morgan State is on top (30 percent) followed by Florida A&M (24 percent) and North Carolina A&T University (22 percent).
  • More than a third of black STEM Ph.D. holders earned their undergraduate degrees at HBCUs, but 88 percent of this group went on to earn their graduate degrees at predominantly white institutions.
  • Nearly 40 percent of black STEM Ph.D. recipients identified as first-generation college students. Eleven percent of first-generation college students attended only HBCUs on their pathway to a STEM doctorate.
  • Among black STEM Ph.D.'s, women (14 percent) are more likely than their male peers (11 percent) to earn a doctorate at an HBCU.
  • Black STEM Ph.D. recipients who are U.S. citizens are more likely to earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees from HBCUs (10 percent). Only three percent of black recipients who are not U.S. citizens took the same institutional pathway.

The researchers looked at a sample of 2,713 black STEM Ph.D. recipients who earned their degrees between 2005 and 2010. The data came from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates.

To read all the findings from The Role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as Pathway Providers: Institutional Pathways to the STEM Ph.D. Among Black Students, visit www.air.org.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.


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