Historically black colleges and universities

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Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African American community.[1] They have always allowed admission to students of all races.

There are 107 HBCUs in the United States, including public and private institutions, community and four-year institutions, medical and law schools.[2][3] Most were created in the aftermath of the American Civil War and are in the former slave states, although a few notable exceptions exist.


Morehouse College, an HBCU founded in 1867

Most HBCUs were established after the American Civil War, often with the assistance of northern religious missionary organizations. However, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (1837) and Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) (1854) , were established for blacks before the American Civil War. In 1856 the AME Church of Ohio collaborated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, a predominantly white denomination, in sponsoring the third college Wilberforce University in Ohio. Established in 1865, Shaw University was the first HBCU in the South to be established after the American Civil War.

The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines a "part B institution" as: "...any historically black college or university that was established before 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation."[4][5] Part B of the 1965 Act provides for direct federal aid to Part B institutions.

In 1862, the Morrill Act provided for land grant colleges in each state. Some educational institutions in the North or West were open to blacks before the Civil War. But 17 states, mostly in the South, had segregated systems and generally excluded black students from their land grant colleges. In response, Congress passed the second Morrill Act of 1890, also known as the Agricultural College Act of 1890, requiring states to establish a separate land grant college for blacks if blacks were being excluded from the existing land grant college. Many of the HBCUs were founded by states to satisfy the Second Morrill Act. These land grant schools continue to receive annual federal funding for their research, extension and outreach activities. The Higher Education Act of 1965 established a program for direct federal grants to HBCUs, including federal matching of private endowment contributions.[6]

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order to distribute adequate resources and funds to strengthen the nation's HBCUs. His executive order manifested the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (WHIHBCU) which is a federally funded program that operates within the U.S. Department of Education.[7]

Starting in 2001, directors of libraries of several HBCUs began discussions about ways to pool their resources and work collaboratively. In 2003, this partnership was formalized as the HBCU Library Alliance, "a consortium that supports the collaboration of information professionals dedicated to providing an array of resources designed to strengthen historically black colleges and Universities and their constituents."[8]

Some colleges with a predominately black student body are not classified as a HBCU because they were founded (or opened their doors to African Americans) after the implementation of the Sweatt v. Painter and Brown v. Board of Education (1954) rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court (the court decisions which outlawed racial segregation of public education facilities) and the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Current status[edit]

In 2004, the US Department of Education published a study of HBCUs that found that, as of 2001, HBCUs accounted for 13% of black higher education enrollment.[9]

In 2007, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund published a study of minority recruiting practices by Fortune 400 companies and by government agencies that found that 13% of the college graduates were recruited from HBCUs and 87% were recruited from non-HBCU schools.[10]

The 2009 Stimulus Bill included more than $1.3 billion of additional federal support for HBCU campuses.[11]

Of the 107 HBCU institutions in the United States today, 27 offer doctoral programs and 52 provide graduate degree programs at the Master's level. At the undergraduate level, 83 of the HBCUs offer a bachelor's degree program and 38 of these schools offer associate degrees.[12] HBCUs are distinctive institutions in that they make up only 3% of the nation's institutions of higher learning.[13]

The portion of bachelor's degrees awarded to black students by HBCUs has steadily dropped from 35% in 1976 to 21.5% in 2001.[14] From 1976 to 2001, total HBCU enrollment grew from 180,059 to 222,453, with most of this increase being attributable to the growth of black females' enrollment from 88,379 to 117,766.[15] According to a New York Times Magazine article "With black students now attending schools that were once off limits, the percentage of black students who attend historically black colleges has declined from 90 percent in 1960 to just 11 percent today."[16]

Following the enactment of Civil Rights laws in the 1960s, all educational institutions that receive federal funding have undertaken affirmative action to increase their racial diversity. Some historically black colleges and universities now have non-black majorities, notably West Virginia State University and Bluefield State College, whose student bodies have been over 80% white since the mid-1960s.

Several private HBCUs are struggling financially, due to the increased cost of delivering private education to students and declining financial aid for students.[17] According to Darold Hamlin, a founder of the Emerging Technology Consortium, and his colleagues Byron Cherry and John Rosenthall, one way HBCUs can remain financially sustainable is through research and development funds. R&D funds from the federal government make up a large portion of revenues at the average public university. Because of that, Hamlin argues, HBCU's should structure themselves in a way that makes them eligible for those funds. [18]

"Though federal law required states to treat them and predominantly white colleges equally, states never did. Lawsuits over the years have argued that states still fail to do so. In 2004, Mississippi agreed to pay three historically black colleges $503 million when it settled a 30-year-old lawsuit accusing the state of discrimination in how it funded and supported its black public colleges.[19] Alabama settled a similar case in 2006, and in 2013, a federal judge found that Maryland discriminated against its historically black colleges."[20][21]

"As they have fought to get their equal share of government funding, these colleges have also struggled to build endowments. Nationally, black students are the most likely to borrow money to pay for school,[22] and they also graduate with the highest student-loan debt.[23] That means it takes them much longer before they can write checks to their alma maters instead of to their loan holders."[20]

In 2006, the National Center for Education Statistics released a study showing that HBCUs had a $10.2 billion positive impact on the nation's economy with 35% coming from the multiplier effect.[24]

According to a study published by the UNCF, historically black colleges and universities are responsible for producing approximately 70% of all black doctors and dentists, 50% of black engineers and public school teachers, and 35% of black lawyers.[25]

In 2015, a Gallup poll was released showing students at HBCUs had a higher sense of well-being in five areas (purpose, social, financial, community, and physical) compared to students who did not attend HBCUs. Also black graduates of HBCUs were more than twice as likely than blacks at non-HBCUs to receive all three support measures at school (having at least one professor who made them excited about learning; having professors who cared about them; having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals).[26]

Also in 2015, the Bipartisan Congressional Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Caucus was established by U.S. Representatives Alma S. Adams and Bradley Byrne. The purpose of the caucus is to serve as an advocate for HBCUs on Capitol Hill. Over 30 U.S. Representatives are members of the caucus.[27]

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education deems one week in the Fall as "National HBCU Week." During this week, several conferences and events are held in Washington, D.C. centered on discussing and celebrating HBCUs, as well as acknowledging select HBCU scholars and alumni.[28]

Racial diversity at HBCUs[edit]

As colleges work harder to maintain enrollment levels and because of increased racial harmony and the low cost of tuition, the percentage of non–African American enrollment has tended to climb.[29][30] The following table highlights HBCUs with high non–African American enrollments:

Racial Diversity at HBCUs[31]
2010–2011 school year
College name State % African American % Other
Bluefield State College West Virginia 13[32][33] 75
West Virginia State University[34] West Virginia 17 72
Kentucky State University Kentucky 64 34
Delaware State University Delaware 70 25
Lincoln University (Pennsylvania)[35] Pennsylvania 79 18
University of the District of Columbia[36] District of Columbia 74 17
Elizabeth City State University North Carolina 81 17
Fayetteville State University North Carolina 78 16
Winston Salem State University[37] North Carolina 81 16
Xavier University of Louisiana[38] Louisiana 74 13
North Carolina A&T State University[39][40] North Carolina 88 12

Other HBCUs with relatively high non–African American student populations

The following list illustrates the percentage of white student populations currently attending historically black colleges and universities according to statistical profiles compiled by the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges 2011 edition: Langston University 12%; Shaw University 12%; Tennessee State University 12%; University of Maryland Eastern Shore 12%; North Carolina Central University 10%. The U.S. News and World Report's statistical profiles indicate that several other HBCUs have relatively significant percentages of non-African American student populations consisting of Asian, Hispanic, International and white American students.[41]

Special academic programs[edit]

HBCU libraries have formed the HBCU Library Alliance. That alliance together with Cornell University have a joint program to promote the digitization of HBCU collections. The project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.[42]

Additionally, an increasing number of historically black colleges and universities are offering online education programs. As of November 23, 2010, 19 historically black colleges and universities offer online degree programs.[43] Much of the growth in these programs is driven by partnerships with online educational entrepreneurs like Ezell Brown.

HBCU notable alumni[edit]

See also the "Notable alumni" sections of each institution's article.

HBCUs have a rich legacy of matriculating many African-American leaders in the worlds of business, law, science, education, military service, entertainment, and sports. This list of alumni includes people such as Martin Luther King Jr., who began his studies at Morehouse College, following in the footsteps of his father, Martin Luther King, Sr.. Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University to pursue a broadcasting career. W. E. B. Du Bois, relying on money donated by neighbors, attended Fisk University, from 1885 to 1888. After Dubois earned his doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Clark Atlanta University, between 1897 to 1910.[44] Althea Gibson entered Florida A&M University on a full athletic scholarship. Michael Strahan played one season of high school football, which was enough for him to get a scholarship offer from Texas Southern University. Thurgood Marshall attended Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore and was placed in classes with the best students. He later went on to graduate from Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania and Howard University School of Law. In 1933, he graduated first in his law class at Howard. Roscoe Lee Browne also attended Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree, in 1946. Browne also occasionally returned to Lincoln, between 1946–52, to teach English, French and comparative literature. Spike Lee enrolled in Morehouse College, where he made his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn. He took film courses at Clark Atlanta University and graduated with a BA in mass communication from Morehouse. Rod Paige earned a bachelor's degree from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. Anika Noni Rose attended Florida A&M University where she earned a bachelor's degree in theater. The Tuskegee Airmen were educated at Tuskegee University.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities". 2008-04-11. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  2. ^ "List of HBCUs". White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. United States Department of Education. 2007-08-17. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  3. ^ Roach, Ronald. "American Baptist College Designated as a Historically Black Institution". Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. Cox, Matthews, and Associates, Inc. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  4. ^ U.S Department of Education (2008-01-15). "HBCUs: A National Resource". White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  5. ^ 20 U.S.C. § 1061.
  6. ^ 20 U.S.C. § 1062.
  7. ^ "About Us - White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities". Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  8. ^ "HBCU Library Alliance". 2010-04-23. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  9. ^ "Historically Black Colleges and Universities,1976 to 2001" (PDF). Dept. of Education. September 2004. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  10. ^ "How Corporations and Government Recruit Talent From Historically Black Colleges and Universities" (PDF). Thurgood Marshall College Fund. 2007. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  11. ^ "Recession hits black colleges hard". Reuters. 2009-01-15. 
  12. ^ "Historically Black Colleges and Universities - American School Search". Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  13. ^ "Viewpoint: HBCU vs. PWI debate misses the real point of higher education". 1 June 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  14. ^ "Historically Black Colleges and Universities,1976 to 2001" (PDF). Dept. of Education. September 2004. p. 4. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  15. ^ "Historically Black Colleges and Universities,1976 to 2001" (PDF). Dept. of Education. September 2004. p. 31. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  16. ^ Hannah-jones, Nikole (2015-09-09). "A Prescription for More Black Doctors". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-08. 
  17. ^ Endo, Sandra (August 12, 2009). "Black colleges struggling". CNN. Retrieved August 13, 2009. 
  18. ^ "How Can HBCU Survive In The 21st Century?". Blackmattersus. June 24, 2016. 
  19. ^ Hamilton, Lemondra (August 2014). "Equality under the law" (PDF). Research in Higher Education Journal Volume 24. 
  20. ^ a b Hannah-Jones, Nikole (2015-09-09). "A Prescription for More Black Doctors". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-09-24. 
  21. ^ "COALITION FOR EQUITY & EXCELLENCE v. MHEC | Leagle.com". www.leagle.com. Retrieved 2015-09-24. 
  22. ^ "9 Charts about Wealth Inequality in America". datatools.urban.org. Retrieved 2015-09-24. 
  23. ^ "Will a degree from an HBCU cover student loan debt". www.theedadvocate.org. Retrieved 2015-10-20. 
  24. ^ http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/2007178.pdf
  25. ^ Alexander Nazaryan, "Black Colleges Matter", Newsweek, August 18, 2015.
  26. ^ Robin White Goode, "HBCU Grads Have Higher Sense of Well-Being Than Black Non-HBCU Grads", Black Enterprise, October 30, 2015.
  27. ^ "Members of Congress Launch Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus". 28 April 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  28. ^ "2015 HBCU Week Conference - White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities". Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  29. ^ "More Non-Black Students Attending HBCUs". Newsone.com (2010-10-07). Retrieved on 2013-08-09.
  30. ^ "Why Black Colleges Might Be the Best Bargains". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  31. ^ "Apart No More? HBCUs Heading Into an Era of Change". Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  32. ^ for 2009–10 school year
  33. ^ Pastel, Ralph (October 15, 2009). "STUDENT PROFILE ANALYSIS FALL 2009 CENSUS" (PDF). BLUEFIELD STATE COLLEGE. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  34. ^ "West Virginia State University". Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  35. ^ U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, 2011 ed.Directory p252
  36. ^ U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, 2011 ed.Directory p151
  37. ^ U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, 2011 ed.Directory p234
  38. ^ U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, 2011 ed.Directory p182
  39. ^ for 2013–14 school year
  40. ^ "Preeminence 2020: Embracing Our Past, Creating Our Future" (PDF). ncat.edu. North Carolina A&T. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  41. ^ US News & World Report Best Colleges, 2011 ed. Directory p. 129
  42. ^ "HBCU Library Alliance—Cornell University Library Digitization Initiative Update" (PDF). 2006. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  43. ^ "Modest Gains for Black Colleges Online". 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-04. 
  44. ^ W. E. B. Du Bois Legacy Project, Clark Atlanta University.

Further reading[edit]

  • Betsey, Charles L., ed. Historically Black colleges and universities (Transaction Publishers, 2011)
  • Brooks, F. Erik and Glenn L. Starks. Historically Black Colleges and Universities: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood, 2011).
  • Cohen, Rodney T. The Black Colleges of Atlanta (College History Series). 
  • Gasman, Marybeth, and Christopher L. Tudico, eds. Historically Black colleges and universities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
  • Lovett, Bobby L. 2015. America's Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Mercer University Press.
  • Mays, Benjamin E. "The Significance of the Negro Private and Church-Related College," Journal of Negro Education (1960) 29#3, pp. 245–251 in JSTOR
  • Minor, James T., "A Contemporary Perspective on the Role of Public hbcus: Perspicacity from Mississippi", Journal of Negro Education, 77 (Fall 2008), 323–35.
  • Palmer, Robert T., Adriel A. Hilton, and Tiffany P. Fountaine, eds. Black graduate education at historically Black colleges and universities: Trends, experiences, and outcomes (IAP, 2012).
  • Stephen, Provasnik; Shafer, Linda L. (2004). "Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 1976 to 2001". Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 1976 to 2001 (NCES 2004–062). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 
  • Roebuck, Julian B., et al. eds. Historically Black colleges and universities: Their place in American higher education (1993) online

External links[edit]