Access, Equity

I’m an HBCU Student. Better Access to Data Would Help Me Make Decisions.

I’m an HBCU Student. Better Access to Data Would Help Me Make Decisions.

Kareema Chisolm is an undergraduate intern at the Data Quality Campaign and a sophomore political science major at Howard University. Her interests include using resources and education to promote equity for marginalized communities.

Limited data access and availability means that students, families, and policymakers lack sufficient information about the quality of and outcomes associated with college programs—including programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)—to understand the advantages of enrolling in them or determine if they are the appropriate next step. To address this problem, underrepresented students need meaningful access to data that will allow them to research HBCUs—including access to information on institution and program characteristics, financial aid eligibility, accessibility of support services provided by the institution, and student outcomes—in order to level the playing field and provide equity to underrepresented students. 

HBCUs were established in the wake of segregation in order to provide Black students with access to a high-quality education that was not available to them at institutions with majority white students. HBCUs are the lead producer in Black degree holders, but prospective students, their families, and policymakers need access to more information to make the right decisions for their futures. 

I’m one of those students. As a current student at Howard University, understanding information relevant to my financial aid package and the support resources accessible to me was one of the major hurdles I have encountered since I enrolled. Due to participating in a dual enrollment program, I was able to finish my associate’s degree while still in high school but I found it challenging to comprehend the transferability of my credits and what it meant in terms of my financial aid. Financial aid and other information about experiences at HBCUs plays a critical role in ensuring that underrepresented students have the information they need to make their college choice. 

But my experience is not unique. A recent DQC survey revealed that students desire to know more about their possible pathways during and after high school, agreeing that increased access to information and data would help them make decisions about their journeys. And a Lumina Foundation-Gallup 2023 State of Higher Education study found that, “Black bachelor’s students are twice as likely (36%) as other bachelor’s students (18%) to have additional responsibilities as caregivers or full-time workers.” Access to financial aid and outcomes information could not only smooth transitions from high school to what comes next, but also promote equitable opportunities across student groups. 

Two ways that I—and other students—would benefit from more information include: 

  1. Dual enrollment programs give students the chance to take relevant and transferable college courses during their senior year of high school, including those with a career and technical education (CTE) focus. These initiatives play a significant role in introducing students to and encouraging career paths, as well as college enrollment and persistence.  For example, Community College of Philadelphia has a partnership with Cheyney University. This agreement makes it easier for students to transfer to Cheyney University after receiving their associate’s degree. Cheyney University offers admissions guarantees provided that all conditions are met. This is a more inexpensive choice for underrepresented students to attain an education. But it is the responsibility of all institutions to make information on these options more accessible so that students can take advantage of these opportunities. Read more on how dual enrollment programs can support equity here
  2. Counselors are crucial in helping students make decisions about their post-high school options, but they frequently do so without having full access to information about postsecondary and workforce outcomes and paths. Counselors rely on anecdotes or self-reported data from graduating students, and as a result, often use inaccurate or biased information since there is a lack of complete data. In a focus group conducted by the United Negro College Fund, students believed that their high school guidance counselors had discouraged them from applying to HBCUs and encouraged them to do so instead at state universities with a majority white student body. With improved data access, counselors can better help students, particularly those who are systematically underserved, achieve their educational and professional goals. Read more on how counselors need better data here

My journey to Howard University is evidence of the critical role data plays in enhancing education for underserved populations. For students like me, having access to this information is essential for making knowledgeable judgments about our options after high school, including whether enrolling at historically black universities is the best decision for our futures.