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The Top HBCU Feeders To U.S. MBA Programs

Marc Ethier
·15 min read

Graduates of HBCUs — historically Black colleges and universities — like Howard University in Washington, D.C. do not go on to MBA programs in great numbers, according to data from the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. Howard photo

Maya McWhorter went from Howard University, what many consider the top historically Black university in the United States, to a career in supply chain consulting before returning to Washington, D.C. last fall to join the MBA program at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. It’s a career pivot for McWhorter, a member of the McDonough Class of 2022 who has a passion for social impact.

The Chicago-area native left her career in logistics to pursue work in human capital and corporate social responsibility, and “I have an interest in sustainability as well,” McWhorter says. “McDonough was really the perfect fit after I learned that they have a sustainability certificate that students can work toward to enrich their social impact learning experience.”

But while she joined a rich and vibrant African-American community at Georgetown McDonough, surprisingly, McWhorter is one of only a pair of Howard alumni in the school’s full-time MBA — and the only one in her class. She is not part of a major pipeline from HBCUs to the leading MBA programs, because such a pipeline doesn’t really exist.

According to data from the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, between 2010 and 2018 only 100 students made the leap from undergraduate study at an HBCU — chiefly Howard but also Morehouse College and Spelman College in Atlanta, Clark Atlanta University, and Hampton University in Virginia — to one of the Consortium’s 20 member schools. Since 1969, fewer than 400 have done so.

HBCU GRADS ASK: WHY GET AN MBA?

Though the Consortium’s data is not comprehensive, it begs the question: Why do so few graduates of HBCUs pursue an MBA?

Georgetown McDonough, where Maya McWhorter is in the second half of her first year in the full-time MBA, has just five HBCU students across its two current classes. McWhorter has a theory about why Howard — her alma mater and the jewel in the HBCU crown, which sits just 3 1/2 miles from Georgetown — sends so few students to the McDonough School, or any other major MBA program, for that matter.

“I think that Howard does a really good job at preparing people to go into whatever fields that they want, not necessarily without needing an MBA, but it gives them the opportunity to go into fields nationwide,” she says. “A lot of Howard students graduate and they don’t stay in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, necessarily. There are a good amount that stay in the East Coast region, but we have a large population of people who go to Atlanta, L.A., Houston.

“A lot of people who I know personally from my Howard experience have been doing really well in their careers thus far, and a lot of them have chosen to do entrepreneurial ventures as well. So I think that sometimes an MBA just doesn’t necessarily fit that specific career path.” Moreover, she adds, B-schools compete with medical schools and law schools for top HBCU talent — and miss the early window. “Business school, typically, they want three to five years of experience before going in. And I think that that makes a really big difference compared to a lot of the med school programs and law programs where you go right out of undergrad. I think that those do a bit more intense marketing toward undergraduate students because it’s a direct pipeline.”

TOP HBCU FEEDER TO A CONSORTIUM SCHOOL: MOREHOUSE

Maya McWhorter

The Consortium, founded in 1966, is an alliance of some of the top graduate B-schools and business organizations. Its mission is to support and foster a network of the country’s best women, Black, Latinx, and Native-American students with leading MBA programs and corporate partners. Among its 20 member schools are Yale School of Management, Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, Georgetown McDonough, NYU Stern School of Business, UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, UCLA Anderson School of Management, University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and Virginia Darden School of Business.

Data provided to Poets&Quants on HBCU undergraduates who go on to join one of the Consortium’s schools shows that between 1969 and 2018, Morehouse College, an all-men’s HBCU in Atlanta, was the top feeder school by far, with 135 grads going on to a Consortium MBA program. Howard was next with 111, followed by Spelman College, an all-women’s school in Atlanta, with 80. Hampton University in Virginia had 41, Clark Atlanta University 19, and Xavier University of Louisiana, in New Orleans, had five.

The data are incomplete, however, for a couple of reasons. They end at 2018. And the Consortium wasn’t always 20 schools strong — it began in the mid-1960s with three schools, grew to five schools two years later, and did not reach its current composition until 2018. We don’t therefore know how many HBCU undergrads joined the MBA program at Dartmouth, for example, before the Tuck School joined the Consortium in 1999 — nor the MBA program at Yale before 2008, nor Cornell before 2009, etc. Moreover, several top-25 U.S. B-schools — including Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — are not Consortium members and not included in its data. And there is the fact that many HBCUs themselves have growing MBA programs that keep undergraduates in the schools’ orbits. Howard University, for example, ranked 69th in the U.S. by Poets&Quants and 70th by U.S. News, offers graduate programs in entrepreneurship, finance, general management, international business, marketing, and supply chain management/logistics.

What we know from available data is that since 2010, according to Consortium data, the member school with the most HBCU undergrads in its MBA program is Michigan Ross, with 15, including six students from Morehouse and five from Spelman. Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, uniquely positioned to appeal to HBCU graduates by virtue of its location in Atlanta, had 13 students in that span, including nine from Morehouse. See page 3 for a table with details.

CULTURAL OBSTACLES TO GRADUATE BUSINESS ENROLLMENT

Peter Aranda, executive director and CEO of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management

Yet these are small numbers when you consider that there are 107 HBCUs with a current enrollment of approximately 228,000 students. Why do so few seem interested in pursuing an MBA?

Peter Aranda, Consortium executive director and CEO, says familial pressure plays a big part. College graduates in Black communities are expected to use their degrees to earn, Aranda says, and to keep earning rather than return to school.

“When we look at the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and the Indigenous community, there is this intense pressure from friends and family, especially those that are more first-generation students,” Aranda tells Poets&Quants. “And so you’ve graduated, you have a great job for a great company — why would you ever contemplate quitting your job and taking two years to go to school and going into debt?

“And so there’s this kind of pressure coming from a group that perhaps socioeconomically are a bit removed from the concept of an MBA and may not quite understand what the benefits are or what the opportunity looks like. And we do get that a fair bit.”

That pressure is mitigated somewhat in the Black community, Aranda says, because “when we think about the history of the equal rights movement and affirmative action, the African-American community was there at the inception and our other two communities were late to the party, so to speak. The Latinx community didn’t start paying attention until a number of years later, and the Native-American community probably didn’t start paying attention until there were more Indians living off the reservation than on the reservation, which only happened in the last decade. So a very, very different place that they’re coming from.”

BIG 2020 ENROLLMENT SUCCESS AT THE CONSORTIUM

Through its “30 by 30 Initiative,” the Consortium is seeking to boost the numbers of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students in top MBA programs to 30% by the year 2030. Currently, the average at the organization’s 20 member schools is 17%. That means a lot of work needs to be done in the next nine years — but Peter Aranda, who joined the Consortium in 2003, is encouraged by the progress, particularly after the successes of the last year.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but in our entering class from fall of ’19 we had a handful of people over 500 spread across 20 schools,” Aranda says. “And this year, fall of ’20, with the same 20 schools, we had 594 students. So, that’s an 18% increase in enrollment, which puts us well ahead of what we were hoping to accomplish in terms of our 30 by 30 initiative.

“But even more than that, I’ve just been really, super pleased that the schools are on board with this. For 45 years, we kind of went along just growing as best we could, but without really an end goal in sight. And I’m always that person that says, ‘A good nonprofit is supposed to put itself out of business.’ We’re supposed to deliver the mission, right? And so if we actually deliver the mission, what does that look like? And that means to me that representation in business school and beyond should look a lot like the population demographics in the United States.

“And so I know that 30% falls short of the African-American, Latinx, and the Native-American figures when you add them up, but 30% is a whole bunch closer than where we were when I started, when it was back at 10%. So I think it’s a good objective, and I’m delighted that the schools are on board. And I’m delighted that the population seems to be responding to us and applying in great numbers.”

Since 1969, Morehouse College in Atlanta has been the top HBCU feeder to MBA programs at Consortium member schools. Morehosue photo

The puzzle remains: Why is there no pipeline of talent from HBCUs to top MBA programs?

At Georgetown McDonough, Prashant Malaviya, senior dean of MBA programs who also sits on the Consortium’s board of trustees, says his school relies in part on the Consortium for its relationship with HBCUs, “and while the Consortium has a stronger relationship with the HBCUs, they don’t seem to attract that many HBCUs’ student graduates to come through the Consortium. So it’s something that they are looking at, and we are trying to help them figure out, but it’s a bit of a puzzle for why the Consortium doesn’t attract graduates of HBCUs.”

The most generous theory, he says, echoing Maya McWhorter, is that HBCU graduates are so much in demand that they don’t need the Consortium to help them. “They get jobs, and admissions, and plenty of help where they want it,” Malaviya tells P&Q. “Somebody who has gone to an HBCU has done well — the Consortium is a little bit like an icing on a cake, and they may not need the icing.”

Another hypothesis: With the proliferation of other master’s in business degrees, Malaviya says he wouldn’t be surprised if more underrepresented minority students are going to those degrees rather than the more competitive and the longer two-year MBA program. “You do a one-year master’s in business, get a great job, you end up spending half the amount on tuition and you get a pretty good job. So, the value proposition might be better for some of the URM candidates.”

IDEAS FOR ‘GROWING THE PIE’

Prashant Malaviya

The 30 by 30 Initiative is about URM — underrepresented minorities — not just Black students. But it is an important program, with important benchmarks, for achieving greater Black representation, too.

Georgetown’s key diversity number in achieving its 30 by 30 Initiative goal sits at 19% — above average for a Consortium school, but still a long ways off from the target. Malaviya says he’s glad they have nine more years to reach the goal.

“Because it’s a challenge. We have been digging into our data pretty carefully and what we see is that the challenge is really a pipeline challenge,” he says. “It’s not like we don’t want to attract diverse students, it’s not like there aren’t enough qualified students to come to top MBA programs. The candidates who come to the programs are all highly qualified. But there just aren’t enough candidates who we feel comfortable admitting in our program with the belief that they are best prepared to be successful and to take best advantage of the program. So, we are looking at some data, like how a single-digit percentage of diverse undergraduate students go on to do a master’s. That’s a pipeline problem and we need to solve that problem before we can really grow, get to the 30 by 30.”

Malaviya acknowledges that it’s a Consortium-wide issue. The top schools are competing for a bigger share of a pie that remains the same size.

“We did a benchmarking for the most recent class and the Consortium schools range in the percentage of URM students. So I’m not talking about just African-American but URM. So we range in percentage from 10% to 23%. The average is 17%. And McDonough is at 19%,” Malaviya says. “So we are just a little above the average, but we are 11 points away from the 30 by 30. And the best amongst us is 7 points away from that. And right now what we see in the dynamics of the data is that literally the schools are taking share away from other schools — so the top 25, 30 MBA programs take the URM students away from the other next 25 or the next 50. And that’s because the pie isn’t growing fast enough.”

“I’m on the Consortium board and one of the things that we’ve been discussing is, ‘How do we grow this pie?’ And I think the Consortium was struggling to come up with some brilliant ideas. We have a few ideas that might work, and one of them is to increase the Consortium’s reach internationally. Which doesn’t help the 30 by 30 goal because the 30 by 30 goal is only for domestic candidates, it’s not for international candidates, but it will certainly increase the diversity of the MBA program, right? So we will have more diverse MBA students, not necessarily more diverse U.S. domestic student. And to me that’s an indication that it’s proving to be difficult to grow the pie so that we have a better feed into the MBA programs.

Malaviya points to a recently announced program at Georgetown McDonough, the MBA Advanced Access Program, which allows those in their final year of undergraduate or graduate school who have not previously had professional full-time work experience to apply for deferred enrollment to the full-time MBA. By applying through this program, students can secure a place in the class two years out from the time they apply, with the option to extend to three or four years. This year, in response to the effects of the pandemic, May 2020 graduates also may apply for matriculation in 2022, 2023, or 2024. It’s a program, he says that may have special to URM students.

GETTING B-SCHOOL ON THE RADAR

Maya McWhorter recalls how Georgetown got on her radar as a student at Howard. “Not necessarily as an MBA program initially, because I didn’t know as much about MBA programs in undergrad,” she says. “But a lot of Howard students used to take the bus to Georgetown. It would pick us up right outside of campus — you can take the G2 bus directly to Georgetown. So we would go to a lot of their Black student union events and I was able to meet other people who go to the school. That was my first opportunity for really interacting with other schools in the D.C. area. Georgetown was the very first school where I started meeting other people who didn’t go to my university.”

Now she observes the landscape for Black students not only as an MBA student at Georgetown and the co-president of the school’s Black MBA Association, but as a student ambassador, as well. McWhorter is one of eight admissions ambassadors who attend events that have prospective or admitted students, acting as liaison between admissions and the community. In that way she speaks to a lot of people who are interested in attending McDonough, “adding a more personalized spiel from things on the website so they can actually ask someone who has experience with programs, clubs, certificates.”

And she has talked to a lot of Howard students.

“A lot of people are in that three- to six-year window out of school now, and they’re definitely interested in business school. So there’s a lot of inquiries coming in,” McWhorter says. “I usually at least have probably three to four calls a week, just talking to people who are interested in the program.

What will it take to get more Black students from Howard or other HBCUs interested in coming to Georgetown?

“I think the greater outreach always helps,” she says. “I think that you should never assume that people know. And so the more information and access that’s provided, I think that always provides a greater opportunity for people to get involved, and at least have it on their radar down the line.”

Spelman College, an all-women HBCU in Atlanta, has sent 80 alumni to Consortium MBA programs in the last 45 years. Spelman photo

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