HBCU Excellence

There is no doubt historically Black colleges and universities play a major role in American history. Founded to provide postsecondary education to African Americans at a time when they were denied entry to the nation’s predominantly White institutions, HBCUs were once the only option for Blacks who wanted a college education.

Fast-forward to today. Times are undoubtedly different from those that led to Cheyney University becoming the first HBCU in 1837. After all, today, Black students can attend any college or university, so some argue that the need for HBCUs is not so great.

However, evidence shows that not only are HBCUs necessary, but they are more relevant than ever. Some of the esteemed leaders of our nation’s HBCUs explain why.

1. HBCUs Still Have a Domestic Role to Play

Some argue that HBCUs aren’t as relevant because the doors of all colleges are open to people of all races. However, “HBCUs are necessary today because, in spite of increasing opportunities, access is still a major problem for minority students,” said Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick (B.S. ’92, M.D. ’94, M.B.A. ’11).

Indeed a 2015 analysis by media outlets The Hechinger Report and The Huffi ngton Post found that only 5 percent of college students at the nation’s largest public universities were Black.

HBCUs also continue to play a major role in addressing policies that affect minorities on a national level, such as social justice, discrimination and economic parity.

“The gravity of our domestic affairs, especially the status and condition of disposed and oppressed minorities, presents a serious problem and historically Black colleges and universities are the solution,” Frederick said.

2. HBCUs Offer More Than Academics

HBCUs provide a sense of nurturing that many non-HBCUs do not, as well as a respect for the history and culture of African Americans. For students, that can create feelings of acceptance that they might not experience in a different environment.

“We have quite a few students who have been living in predominantly White neighborhoods,” said Morgan State University President David Wilson, Ed.D. “Some of them have had some experiences in those places that have led them to conclude that they are not as valued. They seek us out because they want their college experience to be in a place that says to them: ‘You’re OK. You don’t have to prove anything here based on your race.’”


Students of color at HBCUs also benefi t from a faculty that is more likely to be committed to the success of African-American students than on non-HBCU campuses, said Bowie State University President Mickey L. Burnim, Ph.D. In fact, a 2015 study by Gallup called the “Gallup-USA Funds Minority College Graduates Report” found that 58 percent of Black graduates of HBCUs recall having professors who cared about them as people, compared to only 25 percent of Black graduates at non-HBCUs. “That can make a difference in the performance and the achievement levels of students, as well as the self-confidence and the self-image that is developed,” Burnim said.

That can also lead to a more successful life after college. Indeed, the Gallup report found that 55 percent of Black HBCU graduates say their university prepared them well for life outside of college compared to 29 percent of Black non-HBCU graduates.

3. HBCUs Respond to a Changing Workforce

HBCUs were founded to provide a basic education, Burnim said, but today, “HBCUs offer baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees and degrees. So we’ve gone from very basic, rudimentary educational vehicles for people that have been deniedopportunity altogether for generations, to some of the best educational and research institutions of higher education in the country.”

There also are a vast number of academic offerings to choose from. “Students interested in any area can fi nd an HBCU that will meet their needs, including common programs like accounting, education and psychology or unique programs like golf management, prosthetics and tropical meteorology,” said Leslie D. W. Jones (B.S. ’94, M.A. ’97), founder of www.thehundred-seven.org, a website that compiles information on academic programs that HBCUs offer.

The nation’s Black colleges and universities also have been leaders in some areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. According to the National Science Foundation, HBCUs produce 27 percent of African-American students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, though HBCUs only make up 3 percent of colleges and universities. Not only that, but 21 of the top 50 educational institutions for educating Blacks who go on to receive a doctorate in science or engineering are HBCUs.

“HBCUs graduate 50 percent of African Americans who go on to teach and 60 percent of African Americans who become healthcare professionals,” Frederick said. “Without HBCUs, the nation and the world would suffer a major loss.”

4. HBCUs Help to Create Economic Parity

Historically, HBCUs helped to create a Black middle class in the United States, Wilson said. Today, they continue to give a larger proportion of low-income Americans an opportunity to get the education that can improve their economic standing.

According to the 2017 study by the Education Trust called “A Look at Black Student Success: Identifying Top- and Bottom-Performing Institutions,” half of HBCUs had a freshman class in which three-quarters of students were from low-income 

backgrounds. Only 1 percent of non-HBCUs had such a high percentage of low-income students.

The need to accommodate lowincome students is unlikely to lessen in the near future. “The majority of students right now attending public K-12 schools in the United States qualify for free and reduced lunches,” Wilson said. “What that means is that HBCUs have a critical role to play in ensuring that those individuals who are part of that growing population in the United States that is increasingly poor—our campuses must be there to provide them entrée into the middle class.”

5. HBCUs Promote Diversity

Contrary to popular opinion, HBCUs do not just cater to African-American students.

"Although Congress defines a Historically Black College or University as a school ‘established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans,’ HBCUs are not minority-serving institutions,” Frederick explained. “This means that HBCUs are not exclusively for African- American students or faculty—and have always enrolled students of all races and ethnicities.”

In fact, a 2015 report titled “From Matriculation to Engagement on Campus: Delineating the Experiences of Latino/a Students at a Public Historically Black University” by researchers from Morgan State University, State University of New York, Binghamton and University of Texas at Arlington found that 76 percent of HBCU students were Black, and 24 percent were of other races and ethnicities.

There also is diversity under the HBCU umbrella, itself. HBCUs are not monolithic. Different schools have unique strengths that would appeal to different students. “Just because we all carry the descriptor ‘HBCU’ doesn’t mean that we’re all the same in any respect,” Burnim said.

HBCUs also are critical to producing a diverse workforce. According to The Network Journal, 40 percent of Black congressmen, 50 percent of Black lawyers and 80 percent of Black judges graduated from HBCUs.

“Higher education is one of the greatest economic escalators in this nation,” Frederick said. “HBCUs have proven over time that they provide the field of higher education with profound outcomes that other segments of higher education have not been able to replicate.”



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