Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African-American community. While some people don’t understand why these colleges are still needed since African Americans can attend any college today, they are still extremely important today.
HBCUs vary in sizes and locations, and they can be public or private. Of the top 20 HBCUs according to USNews.com, only one has an enrollment of more than 10,000 students. Some of the most popular private HBCUs include Spelman College in Atlanta, Howard University in Washington D.C., and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Florida A&M University in Tallahassee remains the top public HBCU in the United States.
With the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 making discrimination because of race illegal, African Americans began attending predominately White institutions (PWIs) of high education in larger numbers. This caused a lack of enrollment and support of the HBCUs that had previously supplied leadership in black communities. However in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, there was a resurgence of support for HBCUs.
According to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), HBCUs make up only three percent of the United States’ colleges and universities, but they account for 20 percent of all African American graduates. Their graduates also account for 80 percent of black judges and 50 percent of black lawyers and doctors.
The UNCF also states that, “HBCUs outperform non-HBCU institutions in retaining and graduating first-generation, low-income African American students”. Because of this, HBCUs are crucial to the success of students who lack the resources to attend major colleges and universities.
As stated by the UNCF, “HBCUs foster a sense of safety and belonging for students of color who feel threatened by growing racial tensions”.
Despite these statistics, people outside of the black community still question the relevance of HBCUs.
The question isn’t why [HBCUs] still exist; the issue is really, how excellent can we be? We are an essential part of the fabric of higher education because of the contribution we make to diversifying many fields. Clearly, the outcomes from the HBCUs speak for themselves. So what we have to do is make sure they’re as strong as possible so they can fulfill and continue to fulfill that role as strongly as possible.Wayne Frederick, Howard University President, from The Atlantic
There are many reasons to consider going to a HBCU including diversity, a supportive atmosphere, and classes and extracurricular activities tailored to African Americans. Best of all, there are many scholarships and grants given to black students and HBCU students in particular.