Morehouse students
Morehouse students.

When Courtney Jones graduated from college in 2000, not obtaining success was not an option.

A graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), Jones said her professors and mentors instilled in her the importance of success. They also instilled in her the importance of self-defining success.

“The program I was in really set the bar for success early on,” she said. “Success was not just, ‘make this amount of money and obtain this title.’ They would provide the resources for success, but you had to decide what success was for you.”

For some of her peers, attending college was success to them. Overtime, the definition of success would adjust. Graduating was a mark of success for some. For others, getting a job was their definition of success; buying a home, etc. They were presented with a different definition of success.

According to a new study that looks at the experiences of black college graduates from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, graduates of HBCUs during that time shared Jones’ sentiments. The study, titled “The Relative Returns to Graduating from a Historically Black College/University” found that graduates of HBCUs felt they had achieved greater success than black graduates of mainstream or predominantly white institutions.

There was a belief that the advantage of HBCUs for blacks had disappeared; however, Gregory Price, one of the authors of the more recent report, said much of this myth is due to a 2007 report authored by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors.

According to the 2007 report, by the 1990s that disadvantage had disappeared. However, Price, the Charles E. Merrill professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Morehouse College, said their report, unlike the 2007 one, utilizes what he calls a full probability sample of black America. That is important because typical surveys do not always do that.

“What we did is we looked at an alternative sample. Keep in mind, the typical study only looks at one narrow outcome, market earnings,” he said. “Market earnings are a short value of success.”

They also looked at psychological outcomes like self-esteem, the sense of black identity, etc. In addition, Price’s study (also co-authored by William Spriggs and Omari H. Swinton of Howard University) engaged a broader definition of the success. They found that some were happier working in jobs that provided personal as well as professional fulfillment.

“Self-esteem and identity are important as well as other skills,” Price said. “If you are going to be a competent individual you must have good self esteem, which is part of what a college is trying to develop and promote – a certain identity.”

Is the same true for black graduates in 2012? Price believes we should not be so quick to make an exact correlation. He said it really depends on the data.