By Taylor Nichols  

Many students know they want to attend an HBCU long before it comes time to apply. The benefits of attending an HBCU are abundant — they’re known for their diverse and inclusive student bodies, strong campus communities, supportive learning environments, and of course, their crucial role in Black history and American history.

HBCUs are also known for the positive financial impacts they offer. Most serve a higher rate of students receiving the Pell Grant than other schools, and many are recognized for the value they provide to lower income students by boosting them into higher income brackets.

There are a lot of important factors to consider when evaluating how well a college serves its community. How much a school costs, the economic makeup of its student body, acceptance rates, loan default rates, and earnings data are all critical pieces of the puzzle when assessing college value. This helps paint a clearer picture of who is attaining an education at that school and whether or not their degree was worth the financial burden of tuition.

To highlight which HBCUs offer the highest payoff, we looked at median earnings by college and compared it to the state salary threshold, which is the median salary for Black graduates in the state with the same level of education.

HBCUs with the Highest Payoff

Comparing median earnings at HBCUs to other Black graduates in the state helps to highlight the value each college provides to the communities they serve, and also accounts for racial inequities in the labor market that negatively impact salaries for Black college graduates. Accounting for the location of the school is also important given most HBCUs are located in southern states where median earnings are lower overall.

1. Xavier University of Louisiana: New Orleans based school Xavier University of Louisiana is the top HBCU for salary. The median salary for Xavier graduates is more than $15,500 over the median for Black alumni in Louisiana with the same level of education.

Previous studies have recognized Xavier as the top HBCU for economic mobility. The school is relatively accessible with a 58% admissions rate and an annual net price of $21,800. More than half of Xavier students are STEM majors and 75% are women. The university serves a high rate of Pell students at 52%, and has a low default rate of 8%.

2.Spelman College: Spelman College, an all-women’s school in Atlanta, boasts strong alumnae earnings $9,000 above the Georgia median for Black graduates and $8,000 above what other women with the same degree earn in the state.

The school boasts a 75% completion rate and just 5% of students default on their loans. More than half of Spelman’s student body are Pell recipients, indicating Spelman offers a high economic value for lower-income students. However, these strong student outcomes do have a higher price tag. The university is the most expensive HBCU by annual net price at $45,751, and has a more selective admissions rate of 39%. Earnings data shows Spelman’s strongest programs for salary include sociology and math, where alumnae are top earners in their field of study.

3. Hampton University: Hampton graduates earn a median salary $4,000 above the median for Black graduates in Virginia. With 38% of Hampton students receiving the Pell grant, the university serves comparatively less low-income students than other HBCUs. It also has a higher completion rate than many at 58%. Hampton’s annual net price is $30,291. Hampton alumni from the biology programs are some of the highest paid for their field of study. Business majors also tend to earn higher median salaries compared to graduates from other colleges.

4. Morehouse College: Morehouse College, a men’s liberal arts school in Atlanta, has a median alumni salary about $4,000 over the median for Black bachelor’s graduates in Georgia. The university has particularly strong outcomes for economics majors, and business graduates also earn high median salaries compared to their peers nationally. Although the college has a higher admissions rate of 58%, the annual net price of $33,346 is likely a barrier for lower income students. Just under half of Morehouse students are Pell recipients.

5. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University: With a $3,626 payoff compared to the median for Black bachelor’s graduates in the state, Florida A&M offers strong salary outcomes with a relatively low cost. The university’s annual net price is $15,902, and a comparatively low rate of students default on their loans at 7%. The university’s strongest programs for salary include teaching, English language and literature, and electrical engineering.

6. Tennessee State University: Tennessee State graduates earn a median of $3,232 higher than the median for Black bachelor’s graduates in the state. The university is also a relatively affordable option with an annual net price of $16,085. Graduates of Tennessee State earn higher median salaries than their peers with degrees in English, fine and studio arts, social work, and biology.

7. Fisk University: Fisk University, Nashville-based HBCU and alma mater to NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Dubois. has a median alumni salary nearly $3,000 above the state median for Black graduates. Fisk is relatively accessible, with a high admissions rate of 71% and an annual net price of $25,782. More than half of students are Pell recipients, and 30% are in STEM programs. Fisk is one of the top schools for business alumni salaries, with median earnings falling in the 90th percentile for business majors.

8. Tuskegee University: Research conducted by Rutgers University recognized Tuskegee, alongside Xavier and Dillard, as top HBCUs for economic mobility. Alumni median earnings are about $1,500 above the median for Black alumni in Alabama. One-third of Tuskegee students are STEM majors, and about two-thirds are women. More than half are Pell Grant students. Alumni tend to earn average or low salaries compared to their peers from colleges in the U.S., which is partially due to the lower cost of living and salaries in the South compared to more expensive areas such as California or New York.

9. Alcorn State University: Alcorn State in Mississippi offers a slightly better economic boost compared to other HBCUs, with median earnings about $450 above the median for Black graduates in Mississippi. The university serves a high rate of Pell students and offers a degree at a relatively low cost. Nearly 80% of Alcorn students are Pell recipients, and students pay an annual net price of $16,031. However, the university also has a high default rate of 21%. The top program for salary at Alcorn State is agricultural business and management, where alumni starting salaries fall in the upper 80th percentile for students with the same degree.

10. Dillard University: Dillard also offers a small financial boost for low income students in Louisiana, with 76% of students receiving the Pell Grant and median earnings $415 over the salary threshold for Black alumni. Dillard has also been recognized for the role it plays in economic mobility for its students based on research conducted at Rutgers. Dillard graduate Ruth Simmons, now president of Prairie View A&M University, was the first Black president of an Ivy League school when she headed Brown University from 2001 to 2012.