Black Joy

HBCUs and college rankings: Making sense of U.S. News’ annual survey

It’s no surprise that higher learning institutions aren’t funded the same or treated the same, especially when it comes to HBCUs. Annual ranking reports like The U.S. News Best Colleges can either help or harm a university’s donations, image and enrollment.

With more than 100 HBCUs across the country but only 77 included on the list because of eligibility requirements, this annual ranking plays a large role in the clout created during the determination of how students will apply and eventually choose their institutions.

Out of 443 colleges and universities included on the Best National Universities Rankings only one HBCU made the top 100 this year — Howard University, and it’s tied with seven other institutions at #89.

The U.S. News and World Report rankings criteria and methodology is often scrutinized. Many find that elements of their rankings are influenced by institutional wealth based on factors of their formula like peer schools rating each other’s academic quality, faculty resources and salaries and SAT/ACT scores.

Just last month, the U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona voiced that any system of ranking colleges that values wealth, reputation and exclusivity more than economic mobility and return on investment is “a joke,” according to a report by the Washington Post.

The 2022-2023 HBCU ranking determined these institutions as top 10:

  1. Spelman College
  2. Howard University
  3. Tuskegee University
  4. Morehouse College
  5. Xavier University of Louisiana
  6. Hampton University
  7. Florida A&M University
  8. Delaware State University
  9. Claflin University
  10. North Carolina A&T State University (9 tie)

As students continue to seek clarity when considering The U.S. News Best Colleges rankings Reckon’s HBCU and Blackness Reporter has highlighted some of the lists high and low points.

Ranking changes from 2021

  • Alabama State University rose to enter the top 25 HBCUs coming in at #22 this year
    • It was also recognized as the second-highest-ranking HBCU Alabama for 2022
  • Florida A&M University (FAMU) moved ahead of North Carolina A&T State University (NCAT) this year
    • Last year, FAMU tied for #7 with NCAT and this year NCAT moved to #9
  • Jackson State University (JSU) broke into the top 20 list of HBCUs
    • JSU now tied at #18 with Clark Atlanta University
  • Johnson C. Smith University also broke rose in the ranking
    • They moved from #30 in 2021 to #26 this year
  • Delaware State University moved from #10 last year to #8 this year
    • In addition, they also earned the #2 spot among public HBCUs

Rankings that haven’t changed from 2021

  • The rankings continue to place Spelman College as the top HBCU for the 15th year in a row
  • NCAT continues to enroll more Black first-year students than other HBCUs
  • Howard University continues to make the annual Best National University Rankings top 100
    • This year Howard is ranked as #89
  • FAMU is yet again ranked in the top 100 for the Best Public Universities Rankings at #103 making them the highest ranked public HBCU in the country
    • In 2021, FAMU ranked as #104 among the Best Public Universities Rankings
  • Tuskegee University and Xavier University of Louisiana both private institutions were ranked as the highest in the Best Regional Universities - South
    • Tuskegee University as #6 and #17 the year before
    • Xavier University of Louisiana as #14 and #15 the year before

Top HBCUs on Social Mobility

Economically disadvantaged students are less likely than others to finish college, even when controlling for other characteristics. But some colleges are more successful than others at advancing social mobility by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students awarded with Pell Grants. The vast majority of these federal grants are awarded to students whose adjusted gross family incomes are under $50,000.

  • Winston-Salem State University
    • #18 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
    • Pell Grant Graduation Rate - N/A
  • Florida A&M University
    • #23 In Top Performers on Social Mobility
    • Pell Grant Graduation Rate - 52%
  • Howard University
    • #29 In Top Performers on Social Mobility
    • Pell Grant Graduation Rate - 58%
  • North Carolina A&T State University
    • #41 In Top Performers on Social Mobility (tie w/ 3 other universities)
    • Pell Grant Graduation Rate - 50%
  • Jackson State University
    • #59 In Top Performers on Social Mobility (tie w/ 3 other universities)
    • Pell Grant Graduation Rate - 40%

Top national public HBCUs leaving students with the most debt 

Rising tuition and limited financial aid mean borrowing may be necessary to earn a degree. Below are schools ranked by U.S. News whose students graduated carrying the heaviest debt loads. The data show loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education – the vast majority of student loans. Typical Total Debt After Graduation is the median cumulative amount borrowed by 2019 and 2020 graduates who took out federal loans. Freshmen Receiving Federal Loan is the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduates who borrowed during the 2019-2020 academic year.

  • Alabama State University
    • typical total federal loan debt after graduation - $31,000
    • freshmen receiving federal loan - 74%
  • Southern University and A&M College
    • typical total federal loan debt after graduation  - $30,668
    • freshmen receiving federal loan - 88%
  • Texas Southern University
    • typical total federal loan debt after graduation - $29,340
    • freshmen receiving federal loan - 76%
  • Jackson State University
    • typical total federal loan debt after graduation - $29,250
    • freshmen receiving federal loan - 79%
  • Morgan State University
    • typical total federal loan debt after graduation  - $27,500
    • freshmen receiving federal loan - 78%

Top Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) institutions ranked among HBCUs

Collegiate athletic conference made up of HBCUs across the South.

  • #7 Florida A&M University
  • #19 Jackson State University
  • #23 Alcorn State University
  • #26 Prairie View State University
  • #26 Southern University
  • #31 Alabama State University
  • #31 University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  • #40 Alabama A&M University
  • #45 Mississippi Valley State
  • #49  Bethune-Cookman University
  • #49 Grambling University
  • #49 Texas Southern University

Top Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) institutions ranked among HBCUs

Collegiate athletic conference made up of HBCUs across the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic area.

  • #2 Howard University
  • #8 Delaware State University
  • #12 Morgan State University
  • #14 North Carolina Central University
  • #16 University of Maryland Eastern Shore
  • #19 Norfolk State University
  • #35 Coppin State University
  • #39 South Carolina State University
Alexis Wray

Alexis Wray | awray@reckonmedia.com

I report on HBCUs and Blackness, working to introduce voices and perspectives of students, alumni and community members that amplify the experiences of Black life on and off campus.

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