An Analysis of the Institutional Factors that Influence Retention and 6 - Year Graduation Rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This paper investigates the relationship between institutional characteristics (institutional selectivity, faculty and financial characteristics) and retention and 6-year graduation rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Institutional financial characteristics (instructional, academic support, student services and institutional support expenditures) were examined from two perspectives: (1) The relationship between the amount of money spent per student and retention and graduation rates and (2) The relationship between the percentage of institutional expenditures and retention and graduation rates. I estimate 6-year graduation rates and 1-year retention rates in 2009 for HBCUs in the sample using multiple linear-regression.

This study has two research questions:

  1. Do institutional selectivity, faculty characteristics and financial characteristics spent per student significantly predict 6-year graduation rates at HBCUs and UNCF institutions?

  2. Do institutional selectivity, faculty characteristics and the percentage of expenditures significantly predict first year retention rates at HBCUs and UNCF institutions?

Key Findings and Implications

This paper found that there is a relationship between institutional selectivity, faculty and financial expenditures on graduation and retention rates. When 6-year graduation rate was the variable of influence, percentage female, accreditation, open admission, and institutional support expenditures were found to be significant across both, the all HBCU and UNCF sets of data. In general there was a direct relationship between percentage female and graduation rates. This finding was consistent with much of the research on graduation rates that show that women graduate at higher rates than men. Institutional selectivity exerted a significant influence on graduation rates.


If improving retention and graduation rates is an institutional goal, then strategies to reduce institutional support expenditures and evaluate the percentage of staff dedicated to instruction is warranted. Similarly, the findings suggest directions for future research that may tease out some of the organizational, pedagogical and policy features of HBCUS.

There are important contrasts between the retention model findings for all HBCUS and for UNCF institutions. These contrasts suggest that UNCF institutions have different dynamics than all HBCUs and retention level strategies that work for one might not work for the other. When regressed alone, the retention model for UNCF institutions revealed no significant results for the variables of interest. On the other hand, for all HBCUs, accreditation, selectivity and instructional staff percentage had consistent significant effects.

Overall, institutional selectivity and institutional support expenditures appears to be an important determinant of graduation rates. Having an admissions policy (negative relationship) and accreditation recognized by the US Department of Education (positive relationship) significantly impacts 6-year graduation rates. The open admissions policy is potentially a sensitive issue for HBCUs because of a tradition of providing educational access to disadvantaged populations. However, an increasingly competitive higher education arena, flanked with the possibility of state and federal aid tied to graduation outcomes, may necessitate a review of this policy and/or the institutional programs that support matriculating students entering under such a policy. Also, high expenditures in the institutional support category negatively impact graduation rates, suggesting that the current allocation of these overhead expenses deserves more scrutiny.

The percentage of instructional staff has a significant influence on first year retention rates. In general, higher percentages of instructional staff negatively impacted retention rates. This finding is somewhat surprising as we might expect more staff dedicated to classroom instruction to have a positive effect on student outcomes. This finding warrants more research into the specific ways institutions assign instructional responsibilities to professors, especially those who teach first year students.





Lee, Kesha (2012). An Analysis of the Institutional Factors that Influence Retention and 6 - Year Graduation Rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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