Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are a unique and prominent feature of American higher education. Read on for our introductory guide on HBCUs.
What is an HBCU?
An HBCU is a historically black college or university in the United States, predominantly in the South. They are institutions established prior to 1964 whose principal mission is to educate black Americans.
HBCUs were established after the Civil War to educate black Americans who had very few educational opportunities before. Then, with the passing of the Morrill Act in 1890, many colleges received land grants to properly establish themselves. Most HBCUs grew out of this process.
African Americans were not permitted to study at the vast majority of other colleges and universities in the nation until the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Then, the Higher Education Act of 1965 formally created the HBCU designation to recognize these important institutions.
Officially, the HBCU designation was granted to colleges and universities that met the following criteria:
- Established prior to 1964
- Had educating black Americans as their primary mission
- Were accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary of Education
HBCUs have continued to be major pillars and players in the higher education of black Americans.
Why Are Historically Black Colleges and Universities Important?
Advocates of HBCUs argue they are still important and still very much relevant today. HBCUs focus on educating the leaders of tomorrow and building a strong and caring culture rooted in the college’s historically black roots.
HBCUs often pride themselves on producing some of the most successful and important African American figures in a variety of fields and industries, from academics to technology and literature.
What Are the Best HBCUs?
There are 99 HBCUs across the country. They include state public institutions, private colleges, two-year schools, and four-year schools. Many HBCUs are liberal arts institutions.
Though this isn’t a definitive ranking of the best HBCUs in the country, these are some of the best and most prestigious HBCUs in the US.
Howard University is probably the most well-known HBCU. Located in Washington, DC, it boasts a truly impressive list of alumni including Kamala Harris, Zora Neal Hurston, Toni Morrison, Nick Cannon, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Established just after the Civil War in 1867, Howard University is one of the first institutions of its kind. As a private research university, it offers a wide variety of academic programs and is particularly strong in STEM fields. In fact, it is known for producing the most African American medical school candidates in the country.
Located in Hampton, VA, Hampton is a small private university with a student population of about 4,000. The American Missionary Association founded Hampton in 1867 to educate the new population of freedmen in Virginia. The university offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs as well as eight doctoral programs.
Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Morehouse is the only all-male liberal arts college that is also an HBCU. It has a reputation for its commitment to providing a firm academic foundation for black men. The college is located just a few miles from downtown Atlanta and is part of the Atlanta University Center consortium along with fellow HBCU Spelman College.
Also located in Atlanta, Spelman College is a private liberal arts women’s college and HBCU. Like Morehouse College, it only offers undergraduate bachelor’s degrees. It has a population of just over 2,000 students and is recognized as a highly-selective liberal arts college for African American women.
Xavier University of Louisiana
Located in New Orleans, Louisiana, Xavier University of Louisiana is the only HBCU that also has a Roman Catholic religious affiliation. Like many other religiously-affiliated institutions, it welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds. At just over 3,000 students, the university offers both undergraduate and undergraduate programs in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
Florida A&M University
Florida A&M University stands for Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, though it is best known as FAMU. Located in Tallahassee, Florida, it is Florida’s only public HBCU. It has a medium-sized student population of about 10,000 students and offers over 90 different courses of study at the undergrad, graduate, and doctoral levels.
North Carolina A&T State University
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, or NC A&T, is a leading public HBCU in the state of North Carolina. Located in Greensboro, North Carolina, the college offers programs in education, technology, business, and many other diverse fields.
North Carolina Central University
Located in Durham, North Carolina, North Carolina Central is the first public state liberal arts HBCU in the country. The university is split into nine academic colleges that house over 8,200 students in fields like business, arts and sciences, and computer science.
Delaware State University
Though its main campus is in Dover, Delaware, Delaware State has two additional satellite campuses in Georgetown and Willmington. This public state university has nearly 5,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs.
How to Choose an HBCU?
If you know you want to attend an HBCU, it’s important to do your research about individual institutions. As stated earlier, HBCUs include various institutions, including those with two-year or four-year program offerings. It’s also important to note that HBCUs also admit students of other races and ethnicities and strive to be diverse institutions as well.
Start by researching the schools and programs that you’re interested in. Also, consider geography as a factor and whether the institution is private or public, which can have a significant effect on tuition. Overall, students should compare schools based on these few major factors:
- Programs Offered
- School Size
- Private or Public
- Cost and Financial Aid Availability
HBCUs represent a unique and exciting opportunity to get your education in a historically significant and relevant environment rooted in black culture.