A new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH), published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) has positive mental health outcomes for Black students. 

Researchers examined the long-term mental health effects for Black students attending HBCUs compared with Black students attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

With the intention of discovering how structural racism within educational institutions affects mental health outcomes for students, they tested the theory that Black students at HBCUs would be less exposed to structural racism than Black students who attended PWIs.

“HBCUs are an essential part of higher education, but there has been little research examining how attending an HBCU versus a PWI is associated with mental health for Black students,” said Naomi Thyden, an author of the study. “This research provides evidence that the HBCU environment can have a positive impact on long-term mental health outcomes for Black students.” 

The researchers tracked almost 500 Black students beginning in high school, through college, and several years after college.

Tracking the experience of participants seven and 14 years after college, the study found:

  • For Black students who reported higher depressive symptoms in their teens, those who attended HBCUs reported fewer depressive symptoms seven years post-college compared to those who attended PWIs. 
  • For those students who attended high school in regions outside of the South (in the North, West Coast and East Coast), HBCU attendance protected against depressive symptoms seven years after college. 

The researchers recommended equitable state and federal funding for HBCUs. They also advised that PWIs embrace some aspects of HBCUs, such as more Black faculty mentors, more affinity spaces for Black students, and introducing a more inclusive curriculum instead of teaching only from the European worldview.