David Leonhardt: The Declining Payoff From Black Colleges

The drama over whether or not to attend an HBCU continues.

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David Leonhardt stirred up controversy when he stated in a previous post that students who choose to attend a historically black college instead of a more selective college may be hurting their future earnings prospects. In this post below, Leonhardt attempts to strengthen his argument with more data. Instead of giving more answers, the piece leads to more questions. Statistical flaws and dated information notwithstanding, let us know what you think:

Excerpt (David Leonhardt of the New York Times):

I mentioned in a recent post that students who choose to attend a historically black college instead of a more selective college may be hurting their future earnings prospects. There's more evidence for this finding than I knew. A 2007 study, by Roland Fryer and Michael Greenstone, came to a similar conclusion.

The study found that historically black colleges and universities -- often known as H.B.C.U.'s -- lifted the pay of their graduates in the 1970s relative to their attending other colleges, all else equal, but that these colleges now bring a hefty wage penalty, on average, for their graduates. One possible reason is that traditionally white institutions began doing a better job of educating their black students in recent years, according to the paper.

"On the positive side," Mr. Fryer and Mr. Greenstone wrote, "H.B.C.U. attendees became relatively more likely to be engaged in social, political, and philanthropic activities." I asked Mr. Fryer and Mr. Greenstone whether the wage penalty could partly be a reflection of the fact that graduates of historically black colleges were more likely to take jobs in the nonprofit and public sectors. "The surprising result," Mr. Greenstone replied, "is that the findings hold even after controlling for people's occupation." He also wrote, by e-mail:

Another surprising finding is that the high school accomplishments (e.g., SAT scores, G.P.A., etc.) of H.B.C.U. attendees improved between the 1970s and 1990s, relative to the credentials of African-American students attending traditionally white institutions. Thus, the most qualified African-Americans were increasingly choosing H.B.C.U.'s at the same time that these schools appear to have fallen behind in producing skills that are rewarded in the labor market ...

Read more at the New York Times.

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