HBCUs bring their college courses to high schools serving students from low-income households

Three historically Black institutions—Howard University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College—are teaming up with the National Education Equity Lab, a nonprofit organization that offers online college credit-bearing courses to low-income and first-generation high school students in Title I schools, says Inside Higher Ed. The courses are available at no cost to students, as school districts, states, and philanthropic partners cover the students’ enrollment fees. Howard joined the initiative in 2020, and Spelman and Morehouse becoming more recent members of the Ed Equity Lab network. 

The lab’s mission is to work with colleges and universities that serve as “mobility engines, those that do a good job of moving low-income students up the income ladder,” says Laura Moore, the organization’s managing director of strategy and policy.

College professors from the lab’s partner institutions teach courses over video to students attending Title I high schools, where the student populations are disproportionately students of color and at least 40% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to 2018-19 data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national organization focused on improving the education and socioeconomic well-being of children and youth.

High school students enrolled in Ed Equity Lab courses are more likely to attend four-year universities and out-of-state colleges than their peers in the same geographic areas and of a similar socioeconomic status, according to preliminary data from an ongoing longitudinal study by Johns Hopkins University.

HBCUs are in a position to understand the Ed Equity Lab’s mission, say officials.Over 70% of HBCU students are eligible for Pell Grants, and 39% are first-generation college students, according to a report from the United Negro College Fund, the nation’s largest private scholarship provider to members of minoritized groups. Spelman, Morehouse, and Howard “uniquely understand historically how students have not been well served by higher education and society more broadly, and they bring that ethos to the work,” says Moore. “The courses they’re offering, the way they think about those courses, the way the courses are approached—there’s just special alignment there.”

A mission to make higher education more accessible

The lab launched in 2019 with a Harvard University course, Poetry in America: The City From Whitman to Hip Hop, offered to high school juniors and seniors from 25 high schools in 11 cities, says Inside Higher Ed. More than 92% of students at the participating schools, collectively, were students of color, and 84% were eligible for reduced or free lunch, according to Ed Equity Lab data. Institutional partners have since grown to include higher education institutions such as Stanford, Princeton, and Georgetown universities.

Howard University-led courses on the Principles of Criminal Justice, College Algebra, and Environmental Studies and Justice have reached 1,915 students at 110 different high schools in 16 states and Washington, DC., Inside Higher Ed reports. Spelman College’s initial course, The Education of Black Girls, explores “how history, politics, economics, social class, colorism, racism … through the generations have affected Black girls who become Black women,” says Andrea Lewis, instructor for the course, director of student success, and associate professor of education at Spelman. 

Morehouse, the most recent HBCU to partner with the lab, is now preparing to offer its first classes for the upcoming academic year: a sociology course called Social Problems for the Fall 2023 semester and a professional communication course for Spring 2024.

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