Healthcare Administration

Why Students Choose HBCU Healthcare Administration Programs

Why Students Choose HBCU Healthcare Administration Programs
Six historically Black colleges and universities offer master's-level degrees in healthcare administration. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry November 30, 2020

Many efforts to diversify the medical field focus on putting POC into patient care roles. That's great, but it neglects the positive impact minority executives can have in healthcare environments. HBCUs are among the few institutions promoting diversity on the administrative side of medicine.

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There are diversity gaps in all areas of medicine, including healthcare administration. Or maybe it makes more sense to say especially healthcare administration.

POC occupy just a small percentage of top management positions in healthcare. According to the American Hospital Association and the American College of Healthcare Executives, 91 percent of hospital CEOs are white. Only 14 percent of hospital board members and 11 percent of hospital executives represent minority populations.

The fact that POC are underrepresented in healthcare administration is jarring but not unexpected, considering that they are underrepresented in all aspects of medicine. What’s surprising, however, is that the disparity doesn’t line up with the number of minority students enrolling in health administration and medical management programs. A few years ago, the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) found that 31 percent of students in accredited graduate programs were non-white.

Rectifying this disparity will ultimately require eliminating established biases and institutional systems that keep minority administrators from reaching their full potential. Until then, change may hinge on bringing more POC into the health administration field. Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are doing their part to prepare minority students to step into leadership roles in medicine by offering supportive and affordable healthcare administration master’s, medical management master’s, and healthcare-focused Master of Business Administration degree programs.

In this article about HBCU healthcare administration programs, we cover:

  • What is healthcare administration, and how does it differ from healthcare management?
  • What kinds of core courses do healthcare administration students take?
  • How many HBCUs have healthcare administration programs?
  • Why do students choose these programs over programs at PWIs?
  • Do historically Black colleges and universities have the same prerequisites?
  • Are healthcare administration programs at HBCUs more affordable?
  • Why is increasing diversity in health administration so important?

What is healthcare administration, and how does it differ from healthcare management?

The frustrating answer is that healthcare administration and healthcare management are one and the same—except when they’re not. CAHME, the official accrediting organization for healthcare administration bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in the United States, treats health administration and healthcare management degrees identically. The organization even uses the two terms interchangeably on its website and in its materials.

That should settle the matter, but some colleges and universities—and some employers—draw a hard line between administration and management. At these schools and workplaces, healthcare administration and healthcare management differ primarily in scope. Administrators oversee staffing and staff supervision, while managers are concerned with operations and facilities management… or administrators are concerned with day-to-day operations while managers are concerned with big picture needs… or administration is a subdiscipline of management. Schools and employers are free to define administration and management however they like, so you might encounter any of these delineations.

Healthcare administration and healthcare management are nearly always more alike than different, however. Both are concerned with the business side of medicine, and healthcare professionals with titles related to both administration and management tend to have graduate degrees.



University and Program Name Learn More

What kinds of core courses do healthcare administration students take?

Core coursework in health administration degree programs typically covers topics related to management in healthcare settings and other business environments. Take a look at the core classes students take in two programs—one master’s in healthcare administration program and one MBA in Healthcare Management program.

At Winston-Salem State University, students in the 40-credit MHA program take the following core courses:

  • Advanced Healthcare Management Applications
  • Environmental Health Management
  • Grant Management & Writing
  • Health Law, Ethics & Policy
  • Healthcare Finance & Decision Analysis
  • Healthcare Information Systems Management
  • Healthcare Leadership & Communications
  • Healthcare Professional Relations
  • Patient Centeredness & Change
  • Population Health Planning & Implementation
  • Strategic Planning & Marketing

MBA candidates at Alabama State University who choose the healthcare management track take:

  • Accounting Analysis for Decision Making
  • Advanced Health Policy and Legal Issues
  • Business Policy and Strategic Management
  • Economics for Managers
  • Foundations of Health Care Finance
  • Health Information Systems
  • Marketing Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Effectiveness
  • Quality Management and Leadership in Healthcare
  • Quantitative Methods for Managers
  • Research in Healthcare and Evaluation

The MBA frames content related to healthcare in a broader business context and includes more general business courses. The MHA, meanwhile, looks at business fundamentals like leadership and finance in a healthcare-focused way.

Other healthcare administration programs have slightly different core classes. Medical management master’s degree programs sometimes require students to take classes like human anatomy. A Master of Science in Health Administration program may be more technical than an MHA. It probably doesn’t matter much, however, whether you earn a healthcare MBA, Master of Health Services Administration, MHA, or another degree. You’ll be qualified to step into management roles in healthcare settings regardless of what your degree is called.

How many HBCUs have healthcare administration programs?

There are just over 100 historically Black colleges and universities in the US, but there aren’t that many HBCU healthcare administration programs at the graduate level. Quite a few have bachelor’s degree programs but no graduate programs, including Tennessee State University in Nashville, Morgan State University in Baltimore, and Howard University in Washington, D.C.

You can find on-campus MHA programs, online programs, and related graduate degree pathways at:

Albany State University

The 33-credit hour MBA in Healthcare Management program at Albany State University in Albany, Georgia mixes core courses focused on business fundamentals with required healthcare electives over three semesters. It’s an excellent choice for recent graduates because applicants don’t have to meet professional experience requirements or submit GRE or GMAT scores.

Fayetteville State University

FayState’s Broadwell College of Business and Economics in Fayetteville, North Carolina offers an MBA in Healthcare Management that consists of 27 credit hours of core business coursework and 12 elective credit hours focused on health systems administration. This is one of the school’s most popular MBA concentrations, which isn’t surprising given Fayetteville State University’s proximity to world-class healthcare providers and health systems.

Florida A&M University

FAMU’s 47-credit hour MHA program has students take courses in business fundamentals along with classes that “develop students’ understanding of the social, legal, and political factors affecting the health care delivery system.” It culminates with a capstone course and an administrative residency. This healthcare administration program has classes in the evenings on its Tallahassee, Florida campus and online, making it ideal for anyone who wants to earn a graduate degree in healthcare management while working full-time.

South Carolina State University

The 36-credit hour MBA in Healthcare Management at South Carolina State in Orangeburg, South Carolina was designed for professionals in the medical field who want to transition to management careers, though the program also accepts applicants from other backgrounds. Courses are held in the evenings and on Saturdays, removing some of the barriers that challenge adult students seeking graduate degrees.

Texas Southern University

This Houston college offers a 54-credit hour Master of Science in Health Care Administration (MHCA) designed to prepare students to step into leadership roles. The particularly health-science-focused program includes classes in epidemiology and research design methods in the core curriculum. Most students complete the program (which includes one or more administrative internships) in about two years.

Winston-Salem State University

WSSU’s no-GRE MHA program is health equity-focused. It prepares students to assert “a positive influence on the healthcare of individuals, families, and the communities in which they live.” Designed for working professionals, WSU’s MHA is delivered in a flexible online format, so you can attend even if you live outside of North Carolina. All students receive ongoing support from both a mentor and an advisor team.

Why do students choose these programs over programs at PWIs?

Many students choose HBCU healthcare administration programs for the same reasons other types of HBCU programs attract applicants. Historically Black colleges and universities continue to provide a haven in which Black students can thrive away from the discrimination, bias, and structural inequality that still pepper higher education. This is especially true in degree programs related to medicine and healthcare professions, where POC are often underrepresented and, in some cases, more likely to drop out. A Gallup study surveyed decades of HBCU graduates and found that Black students felt more supported and encouraged at these schools.

Some HBCU healthcare administration programs attract students who feel strongly about doing more good in the world by emphasizing social justice in the curriculum. WSSU’s Master of Healthcare Administration program, for instance, aims to “increase the participation of underrepresented populations in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina” in health professions and bring more diversity to healthcare leadership.

Do historically Black colleges and universities have the same prerequisites?

The HBCUs listed here generally have less stringent admissions requirements than healthcare administration programs at top-ranked predominantly white institutions (PWIs). They are more likely to accept candidates immediately after they have earned their bachelor’s degree, rather than requiring professional healthcare management or business experiences.

That said, the vast majority of healthcare administration programs at PWIs are not atop the rankings, and their admissions requirements look a lot more like those at FAMU than at University of Alabama at Birmingham, US News & World Report’s top-ranked healthcare administration program. HBCU’s typically go the extra mile to accommodate students who may struggle to gain admission elsewhere; they admit more first-time college students and do more to help students with financial challenges pay for their degrees than other schools.

Are healthcare administration programs at HBCUs more affordable?

Again, the answer is sometimes. WSSU’s MHA program is one of the most affordable programs in the US. Fayetteville State University’s MBA in Healthcare Administration is also one of the most affordable. Not all HBCU programs are less expensive than comparable programs at PWIs, but in general, historically Black colleges and universities tend to be budget-friendly. Across all programs, HBCU tuition is about 30 percent lower than tuition at non-HBCU institutions. These schools are also more likely to offer financial support to low-income and first-generation college students.

Why is increasing diversity in health administration so important?

It might seem like putting more POC into roles like hospital CEO would have little to no impact on patient outcomes, but that’s wrong. Numerous studies have found that healthcare management diversity can enhance the quality of care, employee satisfaction, community relations, and public health. On the flip side, biases among healthcare administrators can reinforce inequality in healthcare delivery.

Unfortunately, many initiatives designed to increase diversity in health professions are focused on helping POC become patient-care providers. What’s sorely needed are programs that promote executive chair diversity, and that’s where HBCUs come in. African American and minority students don’t have to attend historically Black colleges and universities to join the ranks of healthcare managers. Still, research suggests that HBCU graduates have an advantage over PWI graduates in the healthcare field. HBCU healthcare administration programs not only point POC in the direction of the c-suite but also give them the support they need to make it to the corner office.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Healthcare AdministrationNursing & Healthcare