Historically black colleges and universities ( 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. This was due to the overwhelming majority of predominantly white institutions of higher-learning banning qualified African Americans from enrollment during segregation. [2] [38] There are now 101 HBCUs in the United States, including public and private institutions. This figure is down from the 121 institutions that existed during the 1930s. [39] Of the 101 remaining HBCU institutions in the United States today, 27 offer doctoral programs and 52 schools provide Master's programs. Of these, 83 colleges allow their students to obtain their bachelor's degree and 38 schools offer associate degrees.


Most HBCUs were established after the American Civil War , often with the assistance of northern United States religious missionary organizations. However, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (1837) and Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) (1854), were established for blacks before the American Civil War. In 1856 the AME Church of Ohio collaborated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, a predominantly white denomination, in sponsoring the third college Wilberforce University in Ohio. Established in 1865, Shaw University was the first HBCU in the South to be established after the American Civil War.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 , as amended, defines a "part B institution" as: "...any historically black college or university that was established before 1964, whose principal 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." [5] Part B of the 1965 Act provides for direct federal aid to Part B institutions. Some colleges with a predominantly black student body are not classified as a HBCU because they were founded (or opened their doors to African Americans) after the implementation of the Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954) rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court (the court decisions which outlawed racial segregation of public education facilities) and the Higher Education Act of 1965.

In 1862, the federal government's Morrill Act provided for land grant colleges in each state. Some educational institutions in the North or West were open to blacks before the Civil War. But 17 states, mostly in the South, had segregated systems and generally excluded black students from their land grant colleges. In response, Congress passed the second Morrill Act of 1890 , also known as the Agricultural College Act of 1890 , requiring states to establish a separate land grant college for blacks if blacks were being excluded from the existing land grant college. Many of the HBCUs were founded by states to satisfy the Second Morrill Act. These land grant schools continue to receive annual federal funding for their research, extension and outreach activities. The Higher Education Act of 1965 established a program for direct federal grants to HBCUs, including federal matching of private endowment contributions.

Morehouse College , an HBCU founded in 1867

In 1980, Jimmy Carter signed an executive order to distribute adequate resources and funds to strengthen the nation's public and private HBCUs. His executive order manifested the White House Initiative on historically black colleges and universities (WHIHBCU), which is a federally funded program that operates within the U.S. Department of Education . [6] In 1989, George H. W. Bush continued to adopt Carter’s pioneering spirit through signing Executive Order 12677, which created the presidential advisory board on HBCUs, to counsel the government and the secretary on the future development of these organizations.

Starting in 2001, directors of libraries of several HBCUs began discussions about ways to pool their resources and work collaboratively. In 2003, this partnership was formalized as the HBCU Library Alliance, "a consortium that supports the collaboration of information professionals dedicated to providing an array of resources designed to strengthen historically black colleges and Universities and their constituents." [2]

In 2015, the Bipartisan Congressional Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Caucus was established by U.S. Representatives Alma S. Adams and Bradley Byrne . The purpose of the caucus is to serve as an advocate for HBCUs on Capitol Hill . [2] As of September 2017, there are 62 elected politicians who are members of the caucus. [2]

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education deems one week in the Fall as "National HBCU Week." During this week, several conferences and events are held in Washington, D.C. centered on discussing and celebrating HBCUs as well as acknowledging select scholars and alumni from the HBCU community. [2]

Current status of HBCUs

In 2015, the share of black students attending HBCUs has significantly dropped to 8.5% of the total amount of black students enrolled in degree granting institutions nationwide. This figure is a decline from the 13% of black students that enrolled in an HBCU in the year 2000 which went down from the 17% that enrolled in 1980. This is a result of desegregation, rising incomes and increased access to financial aid which has resulted in more college options for Black students in the 21st century. [39]

The percentages of bachelor's and master's degrees awarded to Black students by HBCUs has decreased significantly over time. HBCUs awarded 35% of the bachelor's degrees and 21% of the master's degrees blacks earned in 1976–77, compared with 14 and 6% respectively, of bachelor's and master's degrees Blacks earned in 2014–15. Additionally, the percentage of Black doctor’s degree recipients who received their degrees from HBCUs was lower in 2014–15 (12%) than in 1976–77 (14%). [43]

The number of total students enrolled at an HBCU rose by 32% between 1976 and 2015, from 223,000 to 293,000. In comparison, total enrollment in degree-granting institutions nationwide increased by 81%, from 11 million to 20 million, during the same period. [43]

Although HBCUs were originally founded to educate Black students, diversity has significantly increased over time. In 2015, students who were either white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, or Native American made up 22% of total enrollment at HBCUs, compared with 15% in 1976. [2]

In 2007, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund published a study of minority recruiting practices by Fortune 400 companies and by government agencies that found that 13% of minority college graduates were recruited from HBCUs while 87% of minority college students were recruited from non-HBCU institutions. [2]

In 2006, the National Center for Education Statistics released a study showing that HBCUs had a $10.2 billion positive impact on the nation's economy with 35% coming from the multiplier effect . [2]

Racial diversity at HBCUs today

Following the enactment of Civil Rights laws in the 1960s, all educational institutions in the United States that receive federal funding have undertaken affirmative action to increase their racial diversity. Some historically black colleges and universities now have non-black majorities, notably West Virginia State University and Bluefield State College , whose student bodies have had large white majorities since the mid-1960s. [39]

As HBCUs work harder to maintain enrollment levels and because of increased racial harmony and the low cost of tuition in the 21st century, the percentage of non–African American enrollment has risen significantly. [2] [2] The following table highlights HBCUs with high non–African American enrollments:

Racial Diversity at HBCUs today [38] School year 2016-2017
College name State Percentage
Bluefield State College [38] West Virginia 8.41 91.59
West Virginia State University [38] West Virginia 7.58 92.42
Kentucky State University [38] Kentucky 46.3 53.7
Delaware State University [38] Delaware 64.17 35.83
Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) [38] Pennsylvania 83.89 16.11
University of the District of Columbia [38] District of Columbia 59 41
Elizabeth City State University [38] North Carolina 75.86 24.14
Fayetteville State University [38] North Carolina 60 40
Winston Salem State University [38] North Carolina 70.76 29.24
Xavier University of Louisiana Louisiana 69.94 30.06
North Carolina A&T State University [55] North Carolina 80 20

Other HBCUs with relatively high non–African American student populations

The following list illustrates the percentage of white student populations currently attending historically black colleges and universities according to statistical profiles compiled by the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges 2011 edition: Langston University 12%; Shaw University 12%; Tennessee State University 12%; University of Maryland Eastern Shore 12%; North Carolina Central University 10%. The U.S. News and World Report 's statistical profiles indicate that several other HBCUs have relatively significant percentages of non-African American student populations consisting of Asian, Hispanic, International and white American students.

Special academic programs

HBCU libraries have formed the HBCU Library Alliance. That alliance together with Cornell University have a joint program to promote the digitization of HBCU collections. The project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation . [32]

Additionally, an increasing number of historically black colleges and universities are offering online education programs. As of November 23, 2010, 19 historically black colleges and universities offer online degree programs. [33] Much of the growth in these programs is driven by partnerships with online educational entrepreneurs like Ezell Brown .

Intercollegiate sports

NCAA Division I has two historically black athletic conferences: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference . The top football teams from the conferences have played each other in postseason bowl games: Pelican Bowl (1970s), Heritage Bowl (1990s) and Celebration Bowl (2010s). These conferences are home to all Division I HBCUs except for Tennessee State University , which instead competes in the Ohio Valley Conference .

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference are part of the NCAA Division II , whereas the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference is part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division I.

Notable alumni

HBCUs have a rich legacy of matriculating many African-American leaders in the fields of business, law, science, education, military service, entertainment, art, and sports. This list of alumni includes people such as Martin Luther King Jr. , who began his studies at Morehouse College , following in the footsteps of his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. . Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University to pursue a broadcasting career. W. E. B. Du Bois , relying on money donated by neighbors, attended Fisk University , from 1885 to 1888. After Dubois earned his doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Clark Atlanta University , between 1897 and 1910. [34] Althea Gibson entered Florida A&M University on a full athletic scholarship. Michael Strahan played one season of high school football, which was enough for him to get a scholarship offer from Texas Southern University . Thurgood Marshall attended Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore and was placed in classes with the best students. He later went on to graduate from Lincoln University , in Pennsylvania and Howard University School of Law . In 1933, he graduated first in his law class at Howard. Roscoe Lee Browne also attended Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree, in 1946. Browne also occasionally returned to Lincoln, between 1946–52, to teach English , French and comparative literature . Spike Lee enrolled in Morehouse College, where he made his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn . He took film courses at Clark Atlanta University and graduated with a BA in mass communication from Morehouse. Rod Paige earned a bachelor's degree from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. Anika Noni Rose attended Florida A&M University where she earned a bachelor's degree in theater. The Tuskegee Airmen were educated at Tuskegee University . Douglas Wilder received his bachelor's degree from Virginia Union University and his law degree from Howard University School of Law. Astronaut Dr. Ronald McNair graduated from North Carolina A&T State University . NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson attended West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University).

See also