Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs)

A Background Primer
Blog Post
Jan. 21, 2015

Incorporated in the Higher Education Act in 2008, Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) are defined as institutions that:

  • Serve at least 1,000 undergraduate students;
  • Have at least 50% low-income or first-generation degree-seeking undergraduate enrollment;
  • Have a low per full-time undergraduate student expenditure in comparison with other institutions offering similar instruction; and,
  • Enroll at least 40% African-American students.

Based on the institutions receiving funds in 2011, at the time of the most recent PBI grant allocation, the majority of PBIs were two-year public institutions. It is worth noting that there are many more institutions that meet the requirements for PBI status based on their enrollment figures, but only those institutions awarded grants are included on the official PBI program list.

Federal PBI Funding

There are two strands of PBI funding: competitive grants and formula grants.

The PBI competitive grant program is designed to support PBIs in establishing or strengthening programs in the following areas:

  • Science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM);
  • Health education;
  • Internationalization or globalization;
  • Teacher preparation; and/or
  • Improving educational outcomes of African-American males.

The 2011 allocation of federal PBI competitive grants was $15,000,000. Grants were awarded to 26 institutions for a period of one, two or three years. An interactive map of all competitive PBI grants that have been awarded since 2008, in addition to funding levels, is available here.

The PBI formula funds are designed to strengthen institutions’ efforts to serve low- and middle-income black Americans and expand higher education opportunities for those students. Institutions must first apply to be designated a Predominantly Black Institution and, if approved, are invited to submit an application and project plan. All applicant institutions that meet set requirements receive automatic funding. According to statute, PBIs receive funds based on three factors (similar to HBCUs): the number of Pell Grant recipients, graduation rate and the number of graduates continuing on to graduate or professional schools.

Institutions may use formula funds for activities that include:

  • Academic instruction in disciplines in which black Americans are underrepresented;
  • Establishing or enhancing a program of teacher education designed to qualify students to teach in a public elementary school or secondary school;
  • Establishing community outreach programs that will encourage elementary school and secondary school students to develop the academic skills and the interest to pursue postsecondary education;
  • Purchase, rental, or lease of scientific or laboratory equipment for educational purposes, including instructional and research purposes;
  • Construction, maintenance, renovation and improvement in classrooms, libraries, laboratories and other instructional facilities, including the integration of computer technology into institutional facilities to create smart buildings;
  • Support of faculty exchanges, faculty development, and faculty fellowships to assist in attaining advanced degrees in the field of instruction of the faculty;
  • Development and improvement of academic programs;
  • Purchase of library books, periodicals, and other educational materials, including telecommunications program material;
  • Tutoring, counseling, and student service programs designed to improve academic success, including innovative, customized instruction courses designed to help retain students and move them rapidly into core courses and through program completion, which may include remedial education and English language instruction;
  • Education or counseling services designed to improve the financial literacy and economic literacy of students or the students' families;
  • Funds management, administrative management, and acquisition of equipment for use in strengthening funds management;
  • Joint use of facilities, such as laboratories and libraries;
  • Establishing or improving an endowment fund; and,
  • Creating or improving facilities for Internet or other distance learning technologies, including purchase or rental of telecommunications technology equipment or services.

The 2011 allocation for PBIs was $9,601,758. This allocation was distributed to 35 institutions through a formula grant process; a complete list with grant amounts can be found here. The minimum grant for a formula PBI grant was $250,000.

Geography of PBIs

While PBIs are located throughout the country, they are concentrated in the South, Midwest and East (see below). This is primarily due to how the population of black Americans is distributed across the country as a whole.


PBIs enrolled nearly 300,000 undergraduates in the fall of 2013, most of whom were students of color. Most PBIs enrolled at least 50% African-American students, including nine that enrolled a student body that was 75% African-American.

After African Americans, white students are generally the second largest group of students represented at PBIs. Latino students are the second largest represented group at about one quarter of these institutions. PBIs, along with Minority Serving Institutions in general, serve high percentages of Pell Grant recipients in addition to their large populations of students of color. At all but a handful of PBIs, Pell Grant recipients make up over half of all undergraduates enrolled.

PBI Outcomes

In general, PBIs struggle with similar challenges to HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions, given that their students share many of the same characteristics and experience many of the same barriers (e.g., low-income, first-generation, underprepared academically). Overall graduation rates at PBIs are below 20% and graduation rates for African-American students at PBIs average 15%. Retention rates are generally just over 50% between the first and second year of college.
Still, a lack of data and research on PBIs makes it difficult to draw many conclusions about the impacts they are having on students, families and local communities. Since the PBI program is still relatively new (the first competitive PBI grants were awarded in 2008 and the first formula grants in 2010), additional research would provide much-needed answers to questions surrounding institutional success and impact.

Key Resources

PBIs Legislation, Regulations and Guidance

U.S. Department of Education: U.S. Department of Education: Tiffany Jones, SEF Presentation at PNPI’s MSI Seminar in Atlanta, GA (October 2014). Tiffany Jones, SEF Presentation at PNPI’s MSI Seminar in Atlanta, GA (October 2014). The Southern Education Foundation is working on a PBI Fact Brief, which should be available in March 2015.