50 top colleges for African Americans: our exclusive ranking yielded some surprises and some staples. And this year, after we show you the best schools, we take a comprehensive look at how to make college affordable.

Author:Sykes, Tanisha A.
Position:Statistical table
 
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FOR A KID GROWING UP IN THE INNER city, visiting a college campus can be an eye-opening experience. At any given moment, you may find yourself on a winding path with large sycamores, fallen pine cones, and ivy-covered buildings, leaving behind a life of loud streets and overcrowded schools.

The experience was no different for Michael E. Adams, a Princeton University student, originally from Chicago. "I applied to the school for an early decision because I went on a tour during the spring of my junior year," says Adams, a 19-year-old sophomore studying economics. "I did an Ivy League tour, and Princeton was one of the friendliest campuses. And it was the most welcoming."

That wasn't the only reason Princeton caught Adams' eye. "It's great for academics, obviously, and the social life. I don't feel like you have to be popular or in the social scene to have fun." There were just 116 African Americans in his freshman class, but that doesn't bother Adams in the least: "When there are African American get-togethers, it seems like a lot of people. It's not huge, but it's not minute."

Choosing the right college is anything but minute. It's one of the most important decisions a young adult can make. How to finance that education is just as much a concern to many parents. To help you make the right choice, BLACK ENTERPRISE offers our ranking of the 50 Top Colleges for African Americans. In addition, we've included a financing guide in which you'll find everything you need to know about grants, loans, and scholarships.

This year, our team of writers, editors, and researchers updated and improved the selection process for the list, which was last compiled in 2004. First, we expanded our pool of survey reviewers, which now includes more than 500 higher education professionals. These professionals reviewed more than 1,400 schools, whereas previous reviewers were sent a list of schools specific to their region. In addition, we conducted the survey online, yielding a better, faster response.

The new approach--combined with giving more weight to graduation rates and other necessary adjustments to the criteria-bumped some longstanding schools off the list. Nevertheless, all of the top 10 schools returned. Perennials such as Stanford and Howard universities, which are lauded for their academic and social environments, continue to do well.

Seventeen schools that made the list this year didn't appear in 2004, including Mills College and Northwestern University. Morehouse, which had been the top school on the last two listings, slipped 44 spots, from No. I to No. 45, primarily because its graduation rate fell from 56% to 49% over the last two years. Several of the newcomers, such as Dickinson and Babson colleges, have black graduation rates of 90% or higher, so schools with rates below 50% were pushed farther down or off the list completely. However, larger HBCUs like Florida A&M University did well, even though they had black graduation rates of less than 50%, because they benefited from having higher black enrollment numbers.

Celebrating its 125th anniversary, Spelman has consistently ranked in the top five of our listing. "After attending a predominantly white school all of my life, I chose to go to Spelman College for the social change," says Aarica J. Blackett, a third-year economics major. "My senior year in high school, I was a debutante for the Links Incorporated. The more and more I bonded with these girls, the more I realized how much potential I had to become more than what I was." More than 83% of full-time Spelman faculty hold doctoral degrees. In addition, the school offers rich cultural programs such as The Sumiko Takahara Japan Studies Program, in which students can study Japanese history and culture.

According to Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D., CEO of DayStar Research and the compiler of the list, the reason for so many changes has less to do with any one variable than with the combination of all of the new adjustments. Several historically black colleges and universities, such as Johnson C. Smith and Clark Atlanta universities, which had been on the list since its inception in 1999, didn't make the cut.

Crunching the NUMBERS

To develop the 2006 BE 50 Top Colleges for African Americans list, we surveyed more than 500 African American higher education professionals including presidents, chancellors, and directors of student affairs for their assessments of the social and academic environments for African American students at the nation's colleges and universities.

A total of 1,423 colleges met our criteria based on their status as accredited four-year colleges with African American student enrollments of at least 3%. In addition, schools needed to have enrollment data submitted with the U.S. Department of Education. Each school was rated on a five-point scale from 1 (strongly recommend) to 5 (strongly don't recommend).

The schools were sorted into seven categories: historically black colleges and universities, national universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities in the Northeast and Midwest, regional universities in the South and West, regional liberal arts colleges in the Northeast and Midwest, and regional liberal arts colleges in the South and West.

The list was derived using the following variables:

* Black student graduation rate

* Average survey score for the school's academic environment

* Average survey score for the school's social environment

* Total black undergraduate enrollment

Black undergraduate students as a percentage of total undergraduates (credit for this variable was capped at 50% for HBCUs)

* Ranking on the 2004 BE

Top Colleges list

The criteria was established by BE and Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D., CEO of DayStar Research. The variables given the heaviest weighting were black graduation rate, followed by the average academic and social environment scores.

Additional reporting by Michelle J. Nealy, Tennille M. Robinson, Tykisha N. Lundy & Stephanie Young

50 Top Colleges for African Americans 2006 Colleges & Universities Web Social rank City, State Address Score 1 Florida State www.famu.edu 44.2 University, Tallahassee, FL 2 Howard University, www.howard.edu 43.3 Washington, DC 3 North Carolina A&T www.ncat.edu 42.0 State Univ., Greensboro, NC 4 Harvard University, www.harvard.edu 36.4 Cambridge, MA 5 Spelman College, www.spelman.edu 43.2 Atlanta, GA 6 Hampton University, www.hamptonu.edu 42.8 Hampton, VA 7 Stanford University, www.stanford.edu 35.7 Stanford, CA 8 Columbia University, www.columbia.edu 36.2 New York, NY 9 University of www.upenn.edu 36.8 Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 10 Wesleyan University, www.wesleyan.edu 38.6 Middletown, CT 11 Dickinson College, www.dickinson.edu 38.3 Carlisle, PA 12 Wellesley College, www.wellesley.edu 38.0 Wellesley, MA 13 Amherst College, www.amherst.edu 38.9 Amherst, MA 14 Duke University, www.duke.edu 34.7 Durham, NC 15 Smith College, www.smith.edu 43.3 Northampton, MA 16 Barnard College, www.barnard.edu 38.6 New York, NY 17 Tennessee State www.tnstate.edu 40.0 University, Nashville, TN 18 Georgia State www.gsu.edu 35.2 University, Atlanta, GA 19 Brown University, www.brown.edu 36.7 Providence, RI 20 Yale University, www.yale.edu 34.2 New Haven, CT 21 Georgetown University, www.georgetown.edu 36.6 Washington, DC 22 Wake Forest University, www.wfu.edu 40.0 Winston-Salem, NC 23 Babson College, www.babson.edu 38.3 Wellesley, MA 24 Williams College, www.williams.edu 37.5 Williamstown, MA 25 Florida State www.fsu.edu 35.2 University, Tallahassee, FL 26 Cornell University, www.cornell.edu 31.2 Ithaca, NY 27 Prairie View A&M www.pvamu.edu 38.8 University, Prairie View, TX 28 Jackson State www.jsums.edu 40.0...

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