What is an HBCU or Historically Black College or University?

  • HBCUs or historically black colleges or universities were established during segregation to give black students access to higher education.
  • The number of HBCUs in the United States has fluctuated due to financial and accreditation issues.
  • Experts say that despite the integration of schools, HBCUs are still much needed because of the visibility, culture and sense of pride they provide to black students.

Some black students dream of going there, following in the footsteps of sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and pioneers whose names are etched in history.

These are HBCUs — historically black colleges or universities — and there are more than 100 of them in the United States, said Leslie Jones, founder and director of The Hundred-Seven, an organization that promotes institutions of higher learning for black students and was named after the number of HBCUs in the country at the time.

Jones, who went to Howard University in Washington, DC, defines HBCUs similarly to the Department of Education, based on when the schools were founded.

“(It’s) 1964 or before,” she told USA TODAY. “They were founded for the purpose of educating either a former slave or their descendants.”

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When were HBCUs first created and why?

The first HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio, before the American Civil War. One, the Institute for Colored Youth, opened in 1837 on a Philadelphia farm, Jones said. Today it is called Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

The Ashmun Institute, which was founded in Pennsylvania in 1854 and became Lincoln University in 1866, is also considered an early HBCU, Jones said.

Many HBCUs were founded in response to segregation and slavery, she said.

At one time, there were hundreds of HBCUs, but some struggled to keep their doors open or merged with other schools, said Carlos Holmes, director of information services and academic historian at Delaware. State University.

Students work in a machine shop at the Delaware State College for Colored Students in Dover, now Delaware State University, in this photo from around 1900.

Where are the HBCUs located?

HBCUs are primarily concentrated in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, with some located as far north as Ohio and Pennsylvania, and as far west as Texas and Oklahoma.

What are the best HBCUs?

According to US News & World Report, the top three HBCUs are Spelman College, Howard University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

US News & World Report uses factors such as graduation and retention rates, social mobility, and graduate debt to score each HBCU.

Speelman: Located in Atlanta, Spelman is America’s oldest historically black college for women, according to the ranking site. The private college has 2,097 students.

Howard: In Washington, DC, Howard has a membership of more than 11,000 and is known for producing much of the country’s black doctors, dentists, pharmacists and engineers, according to the school’s website.

Xavier University of Louisiana: Nestled in the heart of New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana has more than 3,300 students and has been recognized as one of the top liberal arts and science universities. One of the university’s claim to fame is the high number of students who graduate from medical school – 95.5% of Black Xavier graduates in 2013, according to the university.

Here is the top 10 in full:

  • No. 1 – Spelman College
  • No. 2 – Howard University
  • No. 3 – Xavier University of Louisiana
  • No. 4 (tie) – Hampton University, Morehouse College and Tuskegee University
  • No. 7 – Florida A&M University
  • No. 8 – North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
  • No. 9 – Fisk University
  • No. 10 (tie) – Claflin University and Delaware State University

What are some affordable HBCUs students can consider and what about lesser known schools?

Jones said some HBCUs are pretty inexpensive to attend if you look outside of private schools, such as Howard and Morehouse. Even Howard’s tuition compared to other schools in Washington like Georgetown or American University tuition is cheaper, she said.

“Howard could, in your mind, be the university of your dreams,” Jones said. “You come in, you might not be able to afford Howard… It doesn’t mean you can’t go to Dillard and be very successful. It doesn’t mean you can’t go to the state instead from Alabama and being able to afford it while getting an outstanding education.”

A stereogram shows a crowd of students on the lawn near Miner Hall at Howard University in Washington, DC

Some schools such as Elizabeth City State University and Fayetteville State University cost around $5,000 a year depending on whether you’re in or out of state, she said.

Affordability is relative, however, and it encourages people to do more research.

According to US News & World Report, some other less expensive schools include:

  • Mississippi Valley State University ($6,746+)
  • Alcorn State University ($7,596 and up)
  • Southwestern Christian College ($8,132 and up)
  • Jackson State University ($8,445 and up)
  • Rust College ($9,900+)
  • College of Texas ($10,000+)

According to Jones, other schools that students may not be aware of include Clinton College in South Carolina and Coppin State University in Baltimore.

For many HBCUs, a ‘just to survive’ struggle

Jones said of the HBCUs listed by the Department of Education, two are closed and two are unaccredited. Morris Brown College in Atlanta lost its accreditation 20 years ago but regained it this year, she said.

The state of Delaware also gained accreditation in 1945 but lost it in 1949, said Holmes, an academic historian. The university has faced a series of blows, including a lack of state funding, a closure forcing some students to try to enroll at the University of Delaware, and legal action by prospective students for admit them to the segregated school. The state of Delaware gained accreditation in 1957, Holmes said.

He said it’s amazing that HBCUs have survived all these years.

“I think people should understand the struggles that many HBCUs have had just to survive, and notice that some HBCUs just haven’t,” he said.

And for those who want to support HBCUs, one of the best ways is financially, Jones said. HBCU alumni often enter service fields with lower salaries such as social work, nursing, and teaching, and HBCUs serve large numbers of low-income students and first-generation students. who have to take out student loans and graduate with debt, she said.

Do you have to be black to go to an HBCU?


“We’ve always welcomed anyone as long as the law allowed us to welcome anyone,” Jones, of The Hundred-Seven, said. “The only reason our demographics started out that way is because the laws required it to be that way.”

In fact, Howard University’s first five students were white women, she said.

Their fathers were college administrators, and white women weren’t allowed to go to college anywhere else in DC. Their fathers wanted them to go to college, so they enrolled them at Howard, Jones said.

“The majority of Howard’s students have long been African Americans,” she told USA TODAY. “But it was based on laws that white people created.”

Dental students practice at Howard University in Washington, DC, in 1900.

What is the value of an HBCU training?

Jones said some people think HBCU graduate students aren’t taken seriously and won’t get a great education, and that HBCUs are “a failure,” but those ideas simply aren’t true.

HBCUs attract the attention of diversity-seeking recruiters more than other schools, and they have an “unmatched” history, culture and mentorship, she said.

“The idea of ​​being on a campus where you know 100 years ago there were people who were pioneers walking on campus who looked like you is something you just can’t match,” she said.

The programs, while not identical to non-HBCUs, generally offer programs that appeal to students, especially undergraduates, she said. And there’s “black history woven into the curriculum,” said Jones, who recalls taking black philosophy at Howard University.

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And yes, HBCUs are still very relevant, despite what some might think, said Holmes of Delaware State University. HBCUs provide a welcoming environment for all students, especially African Americans.

“There really is a place for HBCUs these days,” he said. “There is so much emphasis on historically black colleges and universities because it is part of the history of this country. It is part of the history of higher education in this country, and it should never be forgot.”

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She’s from Norfolk, Virginiathe 757 and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email him at [email protected]


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