HBCU Schools’ Rich History and Relevance Today

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History of HBCU Schools

HBCU stands for “Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” and the term dates back to 1837, 26 years before the end of slavery. Quaker philanthropist Richard Humpreys founded the Institute for Colored Youth to educate people of African descent. Today, this school is better known as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest African American institution of higher learning.

HBCU quote: "HBCU stands for 'Historically Black Colleges and Universities.'"

Cheyney was ahead of its time, as were HBCU schools like Lincoln University, founded in 1854, and Wilberforce University, founded in 1856, because most HBCU schools were founded after the Civil War.

However, with the end of slavery and the Civil War, other schools started to follow suit, especially when many states excluded black people from attending their land grant colleges. The second Morrill Act of 1890 was passed to require states to establish a separate land grant college for African Americans if they were being excluded from an existing land grant college. By 1902, 85 schools were set up with the goal to educate sons and daughters of former slaves.

Key HBCU Statistics

Stat
Name
Fact
Oldest HBCU SchoolCheyney University of PennsylvaniaFounded in 1837
Largest HBCU SchoolNorth Carolina A&T State University8,041 undergrads
Hardest HBCU School To Get Into Fisk University 11 percent
Number of HBCU SchoolsN/A104

For a long time, HBCUs were the only option for African Americans, but the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ended “separate but equal” school systems. In the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Supreme Court more narrowly defined an HBCU as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principle mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary of Education to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”

HBCU quote: "Any student is eligible to apply and enroll, regardless of race or ethnicity."

While the culture surrounding these universities is tailored most to African American heritage, any student is eligible to apply and enroll, regardless of race or ethnic background. In fact, many publicly funded HBCUs are becoming more desegregated as the student body begins to reflect the racial demographics of the surrounding area, as is the case with West Virginia State University, a historically black college with a student population that is 64 percent white (as opposed to its 14 percent African American population), and Bluefield State College, an HBCU with a 90 percent white student body.

HBCU Rankings

These are the Top 25 HBCU Schools by Niche Grade.

Niche Grade
Name
City
State
Size
Control
Type
A -Fisk UniversityNashvilleTN554PrivateTraditional
B + Hinds Community College RaymondMS8017PublicCareer
B +J.F. Drake State Technical College HuntsvilleAL558PublicCareer
B + Shelton State Community CollegeTuscaloosaAL2699PublicCareer
B + Spelman CollegeAtlantaGA2074PrivateTraditional
BGadsden State Community CollegeGadsdenAL3158PublicCareer
BLangston UniversityLangstonOK1742PublicTraditional
B -Fayetteville State UniversityFayettevilleNC3916PublicTraditional
B - Jackson State UniversityJacksonMS5506PublicTraditional
B -Lawson State Community College - Birmingham CampusBirminghamAL1957PublicCareer
B -Xavier University of Louisiana New OrleansLA2399PrivateTraditional
C +Lincoln University of Pennsylvania Lincoln UniversityPA1569PublicTraditional
C +North Carolina A&T State University GreensboroNC8041PublicTraditional
C +North Carolina Central UniversityDurhamNC5602PublicTraditional
C +Morehouse CollegeAtlantaGA2220PrivateTraditional
C + Howard UniversityWashingtonDC6270PrivateTraditional
C +Tuskegee UniversityTuskegeeAL2936PrivateTraditional
C +University of the Virgin IslandsCharlotte AmalieVI1421PublicTraditional
C +Winston-Salem State UniversityWinston-SalemNC4483PublicTraditional
C +Huston-Tillotson UniversityAustinTX802PrivateTraditional
C +Elizabeth City State UniversityElizabeth CityNC2509PublicTraditional
C +Bennett College for WomenGreensboroNC646PrivateTraditional
C +Claflin UniversityOrangeburgSC1830PrivateTraditional
C +St. Philip's CollegeSan AntonioTX1876PublicTraditional
C +Hampton UniversityHamptonVA3764PrivateTraditional

Click here for a full list of HBCU colleges.

Famous HBCU Alumni

Name
HBCU College
CommonFlorida A&M University
Toni MorrisonHoward University
Rev. Jesse JacksonNorth Carolina A&T University
Sean "Puffy/P.Diddy/Diddy" CombsHoward University
Samuel L. JacksonMorehouse College
Jerry RiceMississippi Valley State University
Herman CainMorehouse College
Spike LeeMorehouse College
Alice WalkerSpelman College
Wanda SykesHampton University
Oprah WinfreyTennessee State University

The Bottom Line

Today, there are 104 HBCU institutions in America.

While HBCUs qualify as a small percentage of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, 20 percent of African Americans that earn undergraduate degrees do so from from these colleges and universities. These schools may have come from a troubled period in United States history, but today they hold a legacy that continues to support students from all walks of life, of any color and background.