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
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
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.”