What HBCUs can teach us about elevating student success

Kelly Hughes
Kelly Hughes

September 14, 2022

While many universities grappled with enrollment declining by up to 10% during the pandemic, the opposite has been true at historically Black colleges and universities. Many HBCUs are seeing applications up 30% — and top-tier HBCUs are increasingly becoming the first choice for some of the most sought-after students.

5 ways HBCUs spark long-term success

There’s a good reason that enrollment is on the rise for HBCUs. Let’s look at five ways these schools excel at engaging students, creating Black leaders, and driving economic mobility:

1. Meeting the needs of low-income, first-generation students

HBCUs are critical access points to postsecondary education — enrolling more than twice as many Pell Grant-eligible (low-income) students as non-HBCU institutions. According to the American Council on Education, HBCUs represent about 3% of all postsecondary institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs, yet they award 17% of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students. While one-third of incoming college students are first-generation, 52 percent of full-time undergraduates at HBCUs are first-generation students.

2. Lowering costs to narrow the racial wealth gap

A recent McKinsey study found that HBCUs disproportionately propel graduates into higher-earning careers, despite having endowments seven times smaller, on average, than non-HBCUs. This report makes the case that increasing funding and resources for these schools could help close the racial wealth gap, diversify the American workforce, and benefit the national economy.

3. Helping communities cultivate a deep sense of belonging

Today, more than 100 HBCUs help connect students to their communities. In fact, a Gallup-USA Funds Minority College Graduates Report found that “Black graduates of HBCUs are more likely than Black graduates of other institutions to be thriving — strong, consistent and progressing — in a number of areas of their lives, particularly in their financial and purpose well-being.”

4. Driving diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)

Black students who attend HBCUs excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees — and the numbers prove it. According to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), 25% of Black graduates with STEM degrees come from HBCUs. By helping Black students succeed in these sectors, HBCUs are building and strengthening their communities and culture.

5. Setting students up for long-term career success

Recent studies show that HBCU alumni are 51% more likely to move into a higher income bracket compared to students at other institutions. What’s more, HBCUs continue to be key sources of innovation, entrepreneurship, and talent — graduating 50% of Black lawyers, 80% of Black judges, 40% of Black engineers, and 40% of Black Members of Congress.

Building a culture of support at HBCUs

With the enrollment boom at HBCUs, and the crucial impact these schools have on the lives of students and communities, finding ways to support their goals is more important than ever.

Mainstay currently partners with 25 HBCUs (and counting) to support their historically resilient student populations. We work closely with organizations like The Partnership for Education Advancement to ensure that our messages and conversations are impactful and culturally relevant. By developing long-term relationships with key institutions, we’ve created a network where success at a single HBCU benefits all our partners.

When HBCU Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) wanted to increase enrollment and student on-time payment rates, they partnered with us to develop a chatbot that would help students stay on track. As a result, WSSU increased year-over-year enrollment, improved on-time student payment rates, and nearly doubled their vaccine compliance.

Engaging and empowering HBCU students

HBCUs have the power to provide culturally affirming and cohesive campus environments that promote connectedness and engagement. To fully deliver on this promise, though, schools need to have support systems in place that are accessible and relevant to all students

Mainstay’s behaviorally intelligent chatbots are shown to increase a feeling of belonging and support students’ well-being throughout their college journey. These conversations also help students forge connections that boost self-confidence, increase positive academic outcomes, and strengthen relationships with faculty, staff, and peers. 

Talk with an expert on our team today to see how we can help you achieve your top institutional goals.

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Instant support — anytime, anywhere

Mainstay’s behaviorally intelligent chatbots make it easy to engage with students and employees on the channels they prefer to use:

SMS text messaging

Live chat

Web chat

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Let's talk