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The Rocky Road to R1: HBCUs Pursue Research Distinction

March 13, 2023 — Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) outperform global university research averages in myriad subjects by 40%, according to Elsevier statistical analysis compiled for UIDP and shared during a webinar this month. Eleven HBCUs are ranked as doctoral universities with high research activity, or R2, and significant activity is underway for several to move up to R1 status in 2024. But under today’s criteria, none of the 107 HBCUs currently hold R1 status according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

Why? The answer may lie within the classifications themselves.

Last spring, Tim Knowles, president of the Carnegie Foundation, and Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, discussed refreshing the classifications . “They are ready for rethinking, rescrutinizing, reimagining,” Knowles said.

Mitchell directly addressed the lack of HBCUs in the highest level of the Carnegie system. “The HBCU example is an important one because it speaks to the different ways that institutions can be excellent,” he said. “If you look at the percentage of young men and women of color who leave HBCUs and go on and get Ph.Ds., especially Black scientists, there’s an overwhelming overrepresentation of HBCU graduates among that list. And yet the current classification system doesn’t have a way of rewarding that.”

A badge and a barrier

Funding gaps are among the biggest barriers between HBCUs and R1 status. It takes big dollars to secure high-level faculty and build and maintain state-of-the-art facilities—factors that draw sought-after scholars to these institutions. By virtue of their ranking and the capability it represents, R1 institutions are often invited to apply for far more generous grants than lower-ranked institutions. This makes R1 status both a coveted badge and a barrier for institutions looking to gain more funding and increase their research capacity.

Government agencies are actively seeking avenues to level the playing field. In December, President Joe Biden signed the HBCU RISE Act as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which directs the Department of Defense to establish a program to increase capacity for R2 HBCUs to achieve R1 status. It includes grants for key areas of scientific research for R2 HBCUs, with the potential for expansion beyond just R2 HBCUs. The CHIPS and Science Act signed in August also includes a provision that directs the National Science Foundation to use some of its funding to help HBCUs reach R1 status. The U.S. Air Force recently selected UIDP member Howard University as the first HBCU to lead a University Affiliated Research Center. Last year, several HBCUs saw record-high funding, a promising sign that R1 status may soon be within reach.

Why it matters

Government grants represent a significant research funding stream, but companies are also investing in HBCU research partnerships—and so are R1 universities. UIDP is dedicated to developing guidance to support industry and university members in their efforts to develop their own mutually beneficial HBCU engagement strategies. Our April 18-19, 2023 event, HBCU Engage, will convene representatives from all sectors to enhance partnerships and forge new collaborations. Learn more about the UIDP HBCU Initiative.

We want to hear from you. How does your institution interact with HBCUs? What do you think about the Carnegie Classifications? Let us know at our LinkedIn profile. And don’t miss out on the practical engagement strategies that will unfold at HBCU Engage 2023. Register and join the conversation.

The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of our members or representatives. We welcome your comments on our LinkedIn profile.