“When a college or university is committed to its heritage, it tends to embrace a very strong commitment to values and traditions—typically, the very principals upon which it was established,” says Angela Nixon Boyd, Director of Admission at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) do just that. They provide an environment firmly rooted in history and community for all their students, whether they identify themselves as black or not.
Although the academic experience is comparable to any other college or university, HBCUs offer some unique resources to their students. “Many HBCUs offer support services for students through federally funded programs that offer advising and counseling to first-generation college students whose parents or guardians may not have had the traditional college experience,” says Boyd. “Also, alumni are an amazing and immense source of support at HBCUs because of their commitment and dedication to their schools.” Often, families have a legacy of attending a particular HBCU, and tradition is an important part of the experience as well.
“HBCUs provide a unique environment where students are able to hone their leadership skills in ways that may be unavailable to them at majority (non-HBCU) institutions,” says Dr. Stephanie Wright, an assistant professor of history at the University of West Georgia. “There is an expectation that students will excel and students often live up to those higher expectations.”
Part of meeting such expectations is through rigorous class work, and students will find a curriculum that upholds the HBCU commitment to black history. “Most of the colleges have some course that ensures that the study of Africans and African Americans is a part of the college experience,” says Dr. Wright. “In other words, you cannot graduate from an HBCU without exposure to African and African American history and culture.”
Daniel Wilson is the Executive Director of Policy and Program Development for The National Caucus and Center on Black Aged and a 1999 graduate of Hampton. He says he had an amazing university experience, even though it had a rocky start. During his freshman year his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he was under a lot of stress at school and at home. “If it was not for my professors, I never would have survived the experience,” Wilson says. “For me, that’s what an HBCU encompasses—another family.”
Wilson’s education thoroughly prepared him for the real world, he says, but the relationships he formed made all the difference. “Friends—they will last a lifetime,” Wilson says. Majority institutions are great, he says, but the experience is not quite the same. His advice for students considering HBCUs? “If you don’t go, you will regret it!”