Spotlight on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are full of history and offer countless benefits for students, the communities they serve, and even the economy. For Black History Month this year, CollegeXpress is shining a spotlight on four outstanding HBCUs—but first, let’s explore what makes these schools so special.

The history of HBCUs

The United States was once an openly prejudiced country. Even after slavery was abolished, Black Americans were rarely given a seat at the table. At that time, intelligent and ambitious Black Americans could only dream of attending college. Historically Black Colleges and Universities set out to change that.

The first Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War; these institutions focused on providing basic education and training in the trades. Nearing the end of the war, the Morrill Act of 1862 was passed, allowing for the creation of land-grant colleges in states using the proceeds of federal land sales. These institutions emphasized agriculture and mechanical arts, and they opened opportunities to thousands of Americans previously excluded from higher education. Some of these schools, mostly in the Northern and Western states, welcomed Black Americans into their classrooms, but 17 states—largely in the Southern US—required segregation and even excluded black students from land-grant colleges.

In 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau was established by Congress to help former slaves adjust to life as free American citizens. This contributed to the inclusion of Black Americans in higher education institutions as some HBCUs like Howard University and Shaw University were created in direct relation, but many colleges still barred Black students. In response, Congress then passed the second Morrill Act of 1890, also known as the Agricultural College Act of 1890, which required these states to establish more separate land-grant college for Black students. As a result, HBCUs started popping up across the country.

Related: Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCUs today

There are now 101 accredited HBCUs located in 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands. Around 300,000 students attend these institutions, approximately 80% of whom are Black. In sum, HBCUs enroll about 10% of Black college students nationwide. In 2014, HBCUs accounted for 17% of total bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students, according to UNCF—and 24% of the degrees earned by Black college graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

But why would Black Americans choose to attend higher education institutions that are rooted in segregation? Gallup, Inc., an advice and analytics firm, has interesting answers to this question:

  • Black HBCU graduates are more likely to thrive in purpose and financial well-being than Black graduates who don’t receive their degrees from HBCUs.
  • Black HBCU graduates are more likely than Black non-HBCU graduates to strongly agree that their university prepared them well for life outside of college (55% vs. 29%) and to be engaged at work (39% vs. 33%).
  • Black graduates of HBCUs are more than twice as likely to recall experiencing having a professor who cared about them as a person, a professor who made them excited about learning, and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams.
  • A similar positive relationship exists within experiential learning opportunities, with Black graduates of HBCUs more likely to recall involvement in applied internships, long-term projects, and extracurricular activities.

Though these numbers beg additional questions about diversity and inclusivity in predominantly white institutions (PWIs), the benefits of HBCUs for Black students during and after college is clear.

Related: College Diversity: Where Do I Find It?

The positive economic impact of HBCUs

The positive impact that HBCUs have on their local and national communities cannot be overstated. It’s especially evident when you consider it from a dollars-and-cents viewpoint: HBCUs generate $14.8 billion in economic impact annually!

The local communities surrounding these institutions also benefit from ample employment opportunities. HBCUs generate 134,090 jobs in total for their local and regional economies. Of these jobs, 57,868 are on-campus jobs at HBCUs and 76,222 are off-campus jobs. When a new job is created at an HBCU, more jobs are created off campus as a result.

4 outstanding HBCUs to consider

Clearly, HBCUs have a lot of benefits. If you’re considering attending a HBCU, take a look at our top picks!

Lincoln University

Lincoln University was the nation's first degree-granting Historically Black College and University. Founded in 1854, Lincoln provides a well-rounded liberal arts education featuring active and collaborative learning. Lincoln carries on its unique legacy of global engagement by placing emphasis on social responsibility and leadership development in the classroom, cocurricular programs, and the surrounding communities of Pennsylvania and beyond. Lincoln University was ranked #40 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of “Top Public Schools” for 2020. Get more information on Lincoln University!

Howard University

Howard University is a private university in Washington, DC. Founded in 1867, this doctoral and research-extensive institution has 13 schools and colleges. The historic main campus sits in Northwest DC, just blocks from the storied U Street and Howard Theatre and two miles from the US Capitol. The National Science Foundation has ranked Howard as the top producer of African American undergraduates who later earn science and engineering doctoral degrees. Find out more about Howard University!

North Carolina A&T State University

North Carolina A&T State University is a public research university in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s the largest Historically Black University in the country and the top producer of degrees awarded to Black students in North Carolina. U.S. News & World Report also named it the #1 public Historically Black University in the nation. Get more information on North Carolina A&T State University!

Spelman College

Originally the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman College received its collegiate charter in 1924, making it America's oldest private, Historically Black liberal arts college for women. Explore all that Spelman College has to offer!

Find the perfect HBCU for you

When it comes to making a positive cultural and economic impact for college students of color, Historically Black Colleges and Universities are the crown jewels of the higher education landscape. If the four schools above aren’t a good fit for you, you can find the perfect school using our College Search tool! To filter by HBCUs, simply select “Historically Black” in the Specialty Schools dropdown under our Advanced College Search.

Interested in pursuing African or Black Studies in college? Check out all the four-year schools with great programs here.

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