Black Ivy League

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The Black Ivy League is a colloquial term that at times referred to the historically black colleges (HBCUs) in the United States that attracted the majority of high-performing or affluent African American students prior to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Similar colloquial groups include: Public Ivies, Southern Ivies, and the Little Ivies among others, none of which have canonical definitions.[1] Generally, the schools themselves avoid using the term Black Ivy to describe themselves.

Black Ivy schools are not affiliated with the NCAA Ivy League sports conference.[2] The actual Ivy League is an eight-member athletic conference. At one point in history, some of these institutions debated forming a Black Ivy League athletic conference without reaching an agreement.[3]


There is no agreement as to which schools are included in the "Black Ivy League", and sources list different possible members. The 1984 book Blacks in Colleges by Dr. Jacqueline Fleming states that the schools that make up the Black Ivy league are Dillard University, Fisk University, Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and Tuskegee University. Fleming further notes that, "[t]he presence of Black Ivy League colleges pull the best and most privileged black students... [A]ll seven are unique schools, with little overlap among them."[4] Bill Maxwell, in a 2003 series on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), coincides with Fleming in describing the Black Ivy League institutions as being those seven.[5] The North Star News described Fisk, Hampton, Howard, Morehouse, Tuskegee as well as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Morgan State University as the equivalent of a Black Ivy League.[6] Lincoln University has also been mentioned as being included in the group.[7] In 1976, the Chicago Tribune included Morehouse, Spelman, Atlanta and Clark Universities (the latter merged Clark Atlanta University), Morris Brown College, and Gannon University as the Black Ivies.[8]

Description and legacy[edit]

Although there is a debate about the composition of the group, they shared certain historic characteristics. During the late 20th century, students who attended these schools were able to learn trades and acquire skills and status which put them in a distinctly different social class of black Americans.[9] While these institutions were the favorites for upper-class blacks who chose to attend HBCU's prior to 1970,[10] between 1970 and 1990, a large number of affluent blacks elected to attend predominantly white colleges and universities.[11]

Seven of these institutions are located in the South, while Howard, Lincoln, Cheyney, and Morgan are located in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Each of these institutions are co-educational with the exception of Morehouse College, which is an all-male institution and Spelman College, an all-female institution. All institutions are currently accredited by such organizations as the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.


The founding of two members, Lincoln University and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, predate the American Civil War. The remaining members were founded in the late 19th century except for Xavier University of Louisiana, which was founded in 1915 by the Catholic Church.

During the relevant time period, these institutions upheld a tradition of academic excellence. In 1952, Fisk was the first historically black institution to charter a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.[12] Morehouse has produced the first and one of the largest number of Rhodes Scholars from an HBCU.[13] Howard continues to lead all universities in producing the highest number of black doctorate recipients and has the highest endowment of any HBCU in the nation.[14] Spelman College has consistently been recognized as one of the top ten women's college in the nation.[15][16] George Washington Carver conducted many of his noteworthy peanut experiments while a professor at Tuskegee.[17] Similarly, the largest percentage of African-Americans holding graduate and professional degrees, attended these colleges as undergraduates.[citation needed] From 1897 – 1909, W.E.B. Du Bois conducted the Atlanta University Studies, a “systematic, social-scientific inquiries into the condition and lives of African Americans” and penned The Souls of Black Folk (1903) “perhaps the most influential work of his generation on the African American experience” [18] during his first term as a professor of economics, history and sociology at what was at the time Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta). Dubois left Atlanta University in 1909, the same year that he co-founded the NAACP and returned to Atlanta University in 1934, where he published his last major work, Black Reconstruction in America (1935) and remained until his retirement in 1944.[19]

Current status[edit]

Prior to the 1960s, African-American students and staff experienced serious discrimination in United States higher education. During that era, these schools attracted the best African-American students and faculty. However, since the 1960s, these institutions have had great difficulty in competing with Ivy League and other historically white colleges for top students and faculty[5] The North Star News notes, "As Blacks enrolled in predominantly white colleges and southern states did not invest in Black colleges, HBCU’s were put at a distinct disadvantage. Today, many of these institutions are struggling to keep pace with white institutions in terms of course offerings, facilities, athletics, and student services."[6] Yet, Black Ivy League schools enroll more black National Merit Scholars than elite traditional schools, such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford,[5] perhaps because these students have financial aid independent of the school they attend. As reported by the Washington Post, "Top-tier schools—including Howard, Hampton University, and Spelman and Morehouse colleges—vie with Harvard and Princeton for top black students and faculty."[20]

Since the 1960s, the Ivy League has actively recruited black people who now play prominent roles in each of its institutions, including faculty holding endowed professorships, head athletic coaches, deans,[21] and one president, Ruth Simmons (Dillard graduate) of Brown University.[22] From 1967 to 1976, black enrollment in Ivy League colleges rose from 2.3% to 6.3%.[23] In addition, Ivy League alumni who are African-American have formed the Black Ivy Alumni League, as well as separate black alumni groups for each individual university. The Black Ivy Alumni League notes that "over 50,000 alumni of African descent connected through our Ivy League experiences."[24] African Americans who earned undergraduate degrees at Ivy League schools include former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel Pierce, President Barack Obama; his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama; college basketball coaches Craig Robinson (Michelle Obama's brother) and John Thompson III. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas earned his bachelor's degree at a non-Ivy school, but earned his J.D. at Yale Law School. In 2004, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University sponsored an academic conference entitled "Growing Black Ivy" which drew 200 scholars to discuss black participation at elite Ivy League institutions.[25] Competition for top students have grown more intense. For example, Cornell announced a change in its financial aid policy to match the financial aid package offered by other schools to any admitted students who might otherwise be tempted to enroll elsewhere.[26]

Morehouse College drew national publicity in 2008, when its valedictorian, Joshua Packwood, a white student, explained that he opted to attend Morehouse, when he had received full scholarship offers from both Morehouse and Columbia University.[27]

The relative size of the institutions and their respective endowments also affect each school's relative ability to provide elite instruction. For example, Cornell University's freshman class included 371 black and multiracial students, which is more than the freshman class of Dillard.[28] From 1999 to 2007, Ivy League colleges launched initiatives to make higher education more affordable, to the point that students from low income families can graduate debt-free.[29][30] The University of Pennsylvania has expanded its financial aid program to the point that all students qualifying for financial aid can graduate debt-free.[31] The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education notes that the significant increase in financial aid by Harvard and other Ivy League schools will make it difficult for other schools to compete for top African-American students.[32] A study of the average wages of alumni conducted by Roland G. Fryer Jr. and Michael Greenstone, found that between the 1970s and the 1990s, "there is a wage penalty" in attending a HBCU over those attending historically white colleges, "resulting in a 20% decline in the relative wages of HBCU graduates between the two decades."[33]

Unlike the Ivy League, the main focus of the Black Ivy League has been on undergraduate education. However, Howard University has several graduate-level professional programs, including a medical school, and Morehouse at one time had a medical school, which has since become independent. There are two other historically black medical schools not affiliated with Black Ivy League-identified colleges, located in Nashville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California. As of 2003, these four medical schools "reportedly account[ed] for more than half of all Black medical school graduates" in the United States.[34] Tuskegee has had a School of Veterinary Medicine since the 1930s and began awarding PhDs in the 1980s.[35]

Regarding extension and outreach, many of the HBCUs which are not in the Black Ivy League are land grant universities, founded in response to the Second Morrill Act of 1890. As a result, those institutions receive annual federal and state appropriations to conduct extension activities, which are not available to the Black Ivy League schools, except for Tuskegee University, which began to receive Cooperative Extension funding in 1972. However, the Black Ivy League schools have received Part B federal aid under the Higher Education Act of 1965 as HBCUs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FOR BLACK COLLEGES, A RESURGENCE". Philadelphia Inquirer. January 28, 1987. Retrieved 2009-11-28. Key to the resurgence of the "Black Ivy League" is a growing perception among
  2. ^ "About the Ivy League". Retrieved September 4, 2018.
  3. ^ Hawkins, James E. (1994). History of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, 1913-1990. Benns Printing Co. p. 17.
  4. ^ Fleming, Jacqueline (1984). Blacks In College: A comparative study of student success in Black and White institutions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  5. ^ a b c Maxwell, Bill (September 21, 2003). "'We're in this struggle together'". St Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2009-11-24.
  6. ^ a b "Water still flowing at Morris Brown: Atlanta college struggling to stay open". February 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  7. ^ "THE STRUGGLES OF THE 'BLACK IVY LEAGUE". Inter Press Service English News Wire. 2005-02-22. Archived from the original on 2012-11-02. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  8. ^ Barbara Reynolds; F Richard Ciccone (1976-08-15). "In Atlanta, they're redefining black power". Chicago Tribune. p. A1. Archived from the original on July 28, 2017. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  9. ^ Our Kind of People: Inside America's Upper Class, Lawrence Otis Graham (2000).
  10. ^ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 10
  11. ^ Jaschik, Scott (April 19, 2007). "Changing Times for Black Colleges". Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  12. ^ "Fisk History". Fisk University. Archived from the original on March 17, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  13. ^ "Morehouse Milestones". Morehouse College. Archived from the original on 2009-05-19. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  14. ^ "Who Produces Black Ph.D.'s?". Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Brown, Heidi (13 August 2009). "Top Ten: Best Of The All-Women's Colleges". Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  17. ^ "Tuskegee History". Tuskegee University. Archived from the original on 2009-08-20. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  18. ^ "The Atlanta University Papers". The W.E.B. Du Bois Library, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  19. ^ "Penn Biographies". University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  20. ^ de Vise, Daniel (December 14, 2010). "Howard prepares for test of its future". Washington Post. p. B1.
  21. ^ "New dean of Barnard College announced, and it's Avis Hinkson, BC '84". October 27, 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  22. ^ "Brown U. Names Ivy League's First Black President". November 9, 2000. Retrieved 2009-11-24.
  23. ^ William G. Bowen & Derek Bok (1998). The Shape of the River: Long Term consequences of Considering Race In College and University Admissions. Princeton University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-691-05019-5.
  24. ^ "Black Ivy Alumni League". Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  25. ^ Roach, Ronald (November 18, 2004). "Growing Black Ivy". Diverse, Inside Higher Education. Archived from the original on January 20, 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
  26. ^ Willner, Samantha (September 3, 2010). "Cornell to Match Financial Aid Offered by Ivy League and Other Peer Schools". Cornell Daily Sun. Archived from the original on March 7, 2012. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  27. ^ Dana Rosenblatt & Don Lemon (May 19, 2008). "White valedictorian: A first for historically black Morehouse". CNN. Archived from the original on May 18, 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  28. ^ "Cornell Class of 2013: A Brief Summary" (PDF). August 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-24.
  29. ^ Powers, Jacquie (Jan 28, 1999). "CU announces changes in financial aid policy to enhance affordability". Cornell Chronicle. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  30. ^ Kinzie, Susan (December 12, 2007). "Other Colleges Eye Harvard's Plan to Increase Affordability". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  31. ^ "2009 Penn Sprint Football Media Guide" (PDF). University of Pennsylvania Athletic Communications Office. p. 28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  32. ^ "Ivy League Generosity Will Lure Affluent and Brightest Black Students Away From State Universities". Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  33. ^ Roland G. Fryer & Michael Greenstone (April 2007). "The Causes and Consequences of Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities". National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved 2010-01-18. Subscription required, focusing on two Black Ivy schools
  34. ^ "Historically Black medical schools: providing critical health care, training and research". Ebony Magazine. September 2003. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  35. ^ "History of Tuskegee University". Archived from the original on 2009-08-20. Retrieved 2009-11-30.