If you don’t study in the United States, you have probably never heard of a historically black university or college (HBCU). Or you have and you aren’t entirely sure what they are.
HBCUs are higher education institutions created before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide higher education for African American students at a time when they were not permitted to attend colleges alongside white students. Many of these institutions were created with assistance from religious organisations.
HBCUs have since evolved to become more racially diverse. Today, student bodies include white, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American students. It is thought that HBCUs are generally more racially diverse than mainstream universities in the United States, with higher percentages of Hispanic and Asian students. Some HBCUs, such as West Virginia State University and Bluefield State College, now have a majority white student body.
But HBCUs, along with other minority universities such as all-female and religious institutions, may be under threat. There are now 101 HBCUs in the country, down from 121 in the 1930s.
Currently, Bennett University, one of only two all-female HBCU institutions, is fighting to find $5 million by the end of the month to prove that it is in good financial health. While Bennett’s president Phyllis Worthy Dawkins is hopeful that the university will make it, Walter Kimbrough, president of historically black Dillard University, says that “HBCUs are harder to run because the population has less wealth”.
And this is why these institutions are crucial. They aid many students who ordinarily would not be able to go to university. A large percentage of the people who attend HBCUs are from low-income families and are often the first in their families to attend university. Many HBCUs will admit students who have lower SAT scores, although some do have more selective admissions processes.
These institutions are responsible for producing high numbers of African American graduates and forging pathways for students in competitive industries such as engineering, medicine, law and finance. The alumni of HBCUs include politicians, authors, artists, businesspeople and lawyers, proving to many young black students that it is possible for them to follow the same path.
Although times have changed to the extent that some 90 per cent of black students in the United States attend mainstream schools, the unique experience offered by a HBCU should be protected for those communities that benefit most from it.
Furthermore, these institutions are champions of African American culture and experience, celebrating works of art and literature that might struggle to find a platform at a mainstream institution. They bring work by lesser-known talent to the forefront, emphasising just how diverse the art world can be.
So it is important that we celebrate these institutions for their cultural significance and the doors that they open for many students. This is why we have put together a list of the best historically black colleges and universities in the United States.