The Best Value Historically Black Colleges and Universities
By BVS Staff
In this ranking, we highlight the 50 best value Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to the methodology outlined below.
To compile this ranking, our editors started with an initial pool of 72 historically black colleges and universities identified from College Navigator. Using cost information from College Navigator and data regarding the 20-year ROI from PayScale.com, we awarded points to each school for its affordability and return on investment. We also consulted US News and World Report’s ranking of best HCBUs and awarded points to schools who made the cut. What resulted is this ranking of best value historically black colleges and universities.
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Top 10 Ranking HBCU’s
||North Carolina A&T State University
||Prairie View A&M University
||Prairie View, TX
||Florida A&M University
||Tennessee State University
||Bowie State University
||Winston-Salem State University
||Southern University and A&M College
||Baton Rouge, LA
||Morgan State University
Under $10,000—3 points
Under $15,000—2 points
Under $20,000—1 point
20-Year Return on ROI
Above $400,000— 4 points
Above $300,000— 3 points
Above $200,000— 2 points
â¢ 1 point awarded for each unique feature or program that “wowed” us
US News and World Report Recognition as a Top HBCU
Top 10—5 points
Top 20—4 points
Top 40— 3 points
North Carolina A&T State University
North Carolina A&T State University is not only one of the top historically black colleges and universities in the US, it is also the largest public historically black university in the country. It is home to 117 undergraduate degree programs, 58 master's degree programs, and 3 PhD programs. Popular majors include business, engineering, and psychology. NCA&T has a large alumni, consisting of more than 55,000 members across the world, including notable graduates such as civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and US Congresswoman Alma Adams. US News & World Report ranked the university #10 on its list of best historically black colleges and universities.
Prairie View A&M University
Prairie View, TX
A land grant historically black university established in 1876, Prairie View A&M University is the second oldest public institution of higher education in the United States. The school offers 50 undergraduate majors, 37 master's degree programs, and 3 doctoral programs. Popular majors include engineering, nursing, and education. Undergraduate enrollment totals nearly 7,000 and graduate enrollment is almost 2,000. The student to professor ratio is low at 18:1, meaning students receive quality, individualized instruction. US News and World Report ranked Prairie View A&M #30 in their list of best historically black colleges and universities. The school is less selective than some of the others in this ranking, with an 86% acceptance rate.
Florida A&M University is one of the larger historically black colleges and universities in our ranking, enrolling nearly 10,000 students from across the United States and more than 70 different countries. The school offers 54 bachelors degree programs, 29 masters degree programs, 3 professional studies programs, and 12 doctoral programs, including unique programs in areas such as jazz studies, cardiopulmonary sciences, and health informatics. Student life is a priority at FAMU, offering more than 100 various student organizations for students to join, including fraternities and sororities. As a top historically black university, Florida A&M is fairly selective with an acceptance rate of just 51%. It's ranked #7 in US News and World Report's ranking of best historically black colleges and universities.
Tennessee State University
Tennessee State University is a top historically black university located just outside of downtown Nashville. Its 7,264 undergraduate students have over 40 undergraduate majors to choose from, and graduate students can pursue one of 24 master's degree programs or 7 doctoral programs. Students also enjoy an active student life with over 100 different student organizations on campus. Notable alumni from Tennessee State include Oprah Winfrey and track and field star Wilma Randolph. The school ranks #22 on US News & World Report's list of best historically black colleges and universities.
Bowie State University was established in 1865, making it one of the oldest historically black colleges and universities in the country. The school is home to 5,669 students, most of them undergraduate. Although the student body is 83% African American, students attend Bowie State from over 21 different countries of origin. All students enjoy personalized instruction as a result of small class sizes, thanks to the impressive 16:1 student to faculty ratio. Bowie State is a comprehensive institute of higher education, offering 22 undergraduate majors, 19 masters degree programs, and 2 doctoral programs, but it leads the country in terms of its number of African American graduates in the fields of education and technology. US News & World Report ranks BSU #26 in its publication of top historically black colleges and universities.
Howard University is a top historically black university as well as a private high research activity institution of higher education. The university is comprised of 13 different schools and colleges and offers degree programs in over 120 academic fields of study. Howard is a leader in STEM fields and produces more African American doctoral graduates in the fields of science and engineering than almost any other university in the country. It's one of the larger schools in this ranking with more than 10,000 students and ranks #2 in US News & World Report's list of best historically black colleges and universities. Its location just two miles from the US capital enables students to secure coveted internships and pursue meaningful networking opportunities.
Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University is a public historically black university accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The student body consists of 5,107 total students, half of whom are first-generation college students. The school is less selective than many of the other schools in our ranking with a 60% acceptance rate. Class sizes are exceptionally small as the school boasts a 14:1 student to faculty ratio, meaning students receive plenty of opportunities for one-on-one teaching. Winston-Salem State ranks #32 on US News & World Report's list of best historically black colleges and universities and is in the top 100 Southern universities according to regional rankings.
Southern University and A&M College
Southern University and A&M College is a top historically black university offering a wide range of academic programs on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Enrolled students can choose from among 30 baccalaureate majors and 22 master's degree programs, including popular majors such as business, management, marketing, homeland security, engineering, and psychology. The student-faculty ratio is just 16:1, and the vast majority—over 96%-of academic programs hold special national accreditation. US News & World Report ranks Southern University and A&M College #40 in its publication of best historically black colleges and universities.
Morgan State University is a top historically black university located in northeast Baltimore City. The school is a comprehensive public university offering a wide range of bachelors, master's, and even doctoral programs with a particular emphasis on the arts and sciences on the undergraduate level. Popular majors include business, management, marketing, and engineering. US News & World Report ranks the school #20 on its list of top historically black colleges and universities, and the school continually ranks high in terms of the number of doctoral degrees awarded to African Americans. Morgan State's student to faculty ratio is among the lowest in this ranking at 14:1, meaning its students form meaningful professional relationships with faculty members.
Hampton University is a comprehensive historically black university offering degree programs ranging from associate's degrees to doctoral degrees. The school ranks #3 in US News and World Reports list of best historically black colleges and universities and is regionally ranked #18 across all Southern universities. It is home to 4,646 students—most of them undergraduates—from 49 different states and 35 nations and territories. Hampton boasts the lowest student to faculty ratio in this ranking at 9:1. Notable alumni include Martin Luther King Jr.'s mother Alberta Williams King as well as Booker T. Washington.
University of Maryland- Eastern Shore
Princess Anne, MD
Founded in 1886 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore is now a leading historically black university as well as a competitive doctoral research university. The school has over 4,000 total students, offering 38 undergraduate programs, 15 masters programs, and 8 doctoral programs. Standout offerings include degrees in construction management technology, professional golf management, and hospitality/tourism. Today, two-thirds of the student body is African American, and diversity is a core value at the university.
Kentucky State University
Now a top historically black university, Kentucky State was founded in 1886 for the purpose of training teachers for the African American population. Today, it has a renowned nursing program and offers degrees in nearly every academic area from criminal justice to agriculture and nearly everything in between. The most popular majors include registered nursing, police science, liberal studies, and psychology. KSU is one of the smaller HCBUs in the United States with just 2,200 total students. The student to faculty ratio is just 12 to 1, and more than three quarters of classes have fewer than 20 students.
North Carolina Central University
Founded in 1910, North Carolina Central University is the oldest publicly funded liberal arts historically black university in the United States. Today, the school offers a wide range of academic programs for students to choose from, including 37 bachelors degrees, 39 masters degrees, and a doctoral degree in Integrated Biosciences. Popular majors include law, criminal justice, psychology, business, and family and consumer sciences. The average class size is 21, meaning students have ample opportunity to interact with professors. US News & World Report has ranked North Carolina Central as one of the top 20 historically black colleges and universities in the country.
Tuskegee University is the only historically black university in the country to also be designated as a National Historic Site. Founded in 1881, this private university now offers over 64 different degree programs to its undergraduate and graduate students. US News & World Report has awarded Tuskegee its #6 position in its prestigious ranking of top historically black colleges and universities in the nation. The student to faculty ratio is very low at 13:1, and the freshman retention rate is high at 74%. Tuskegee is selective, accepting only 53% of applicants.
Morehouse College is the only all-male, 4-year liberal arts historically black college in the United States. Founded in 1867, this private urban school is home to just over 2,000 undergraduate students and is located three miles from downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The most popular major at the college is business, but other common majors include psychology, social sciences, English language and literature, and biology. The student to faculty ratio is very low at just 12:1, and the freshman retention rate is one of the highest in this ranking at over 80%. Points
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
An 1890 land grant university, the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff is a top historically black university and the second oldest public institution of higher education in the state of Arkansas. The school is home to 2,721 undergraduate students. It is known worldwide for its Center of Excellence in aquaculture/fisheries and also emphasizes science & mathematics, minority business development, education, and student development & leadership. UAPB is fairly selective with an acceptance rate of 42%, and the student to faculty ration is just 15:1.
Tougaloo College was founded in 1869 by the American Missionary Association and is still affiliated with the United Church of Christ. One of the smallest historically black colleges and universities in the country, the school enrolls just 843 undergraduate students. Still, it offers a reasonably comprehensive offering of undergraduate degree majors. Some of the most popular choices include sociology, media studies, economics, and psychology. Classes are very small as the average student to faculty ratio is just 9:1, and the freshman retention rate is 74%.
Alabama A&M University is a top historically black college located just five minutes from downtown Huntsville, Alabama. The university was founded in 1875 by a former slave and honors its history and heritage while simultaneously adopting a progressive philosophy. The school is relatively small with just under 5,000 students, and students receive individualized instruction thanks to a low, 20:1 student to faculty ratio. Still, it offers a wide range of academic degrees including 41 bachelor's degrees, 23 master's degrees, and 4 doctoral degrees. Alabama A&M prides itself on its dedication to the community, with an impressive 75% student participation rate in school community service projects.
One of the smallest historically black colleges in this ranking, Claflin University enrolls just under 2,000 undergraduate students. As one might expect, the school's student to faculty ratio is very low at 13:1, and most classes are comprised of less than 20 students. This affords students the opportunity to form close bonds with classmates and receive one-on-one attention from professors. Still, the student population is diverse; students come from 24 states and 18 different countries. The most popular majors at Claflin include biology, criminal justice, psychology, mass communication/media studies, and business administration and management.
Xavier University of Louisiana
Founded in 1915, Xavier University of Louisiana is a unique historically black university affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The school is mid-size with an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,300 students. Class sizes are small as the university boasts a 14:1 student to faculty ratio. Xavier offers degrees in 46 different areas of study, and popular majors include chemistry, biology, communication and media studies, and business/commerce. As a point of pride, the school ranks #1 in terms of the number of African American graduates who go on to complete medical school.
Fisk University is one of the smallest historically black colleges and universities in the United States with an enrollment of just 723 students. Because of this small student body, class sizes are incredibly small as well, with an 11:1 student to faculty ratio. The vast majority—nearly 70%- of classes have less than 20 students. Students can choose from 16 different areas of study, and degrees are awarded on the bachelor's and master's levels. Despite what major they choose, all students will receive a rich liberal arts education at Fisk. U.S. News & World Report has recognized Fisk as one of the top 10 historically black colleges and universities in the nation.
Established in 1881, Spelman College is the oldest historically black college exclusively for women in the United States. Undergraduate enrollment is approximately 2,125, and students come from 41 states and 15 foreign countries. The student to faculty ratio is a low 10 to 1, and 61% of classes are comprised of less than 20 students. In addition to one-on-one instruction, students learn from a knowledgeable faculty; 88% of professors hold terminal degrees in their field. Popular majors at the college include biology, psychology, political science and government, and English language and literature. US News & World Report ranked Spelman as the #1 historically black college in the country.
West Virginia State University
Located near the Charleston-metro area, West Virginia State University is a leading historically black university and the smallest land grant institution in the United States. The school is home to nearly 3,500 undergraduate students and offers a comprehensive array of bachelor of science as well as bachelor of fine arts degrees. Graduate students will find masters degree programs in biotechnology, public administration, media studies, social work, and criminal justice administration. One of the least selective HBCUs in this ranking and in the country, West Virginia State accepts 96% of all applicants.
Texas Southern University
With a total enrollment of over 9,000 students, Texas Southern University is one of the largest historically black universities in the United States. The school is an urban-serving institution located in downtown Houston that offers over 100 undergraduate and graduate programs and concentrations from 11 different colleges and schools. Popular majors include accounting, banking, biology, and health care administration. Despite its status as a leading historically black university, Texas Southern has become one of the most diverse institutions of higher education in the state of Texas.
One of the leading public coeducational historically black colleges and universities in the country, Norfolk State University was founded in 1935 and is now home to nearly 5,000 undergraduate students. The school offers degree programs in 49 different subject areas, all from one campus. Popular majors include social work, psychology, registered nursing, and business/commerce. The majority of classes have less than 20 students, and the average student to faculty ratio at Norfolk is 17:1. The university is one of the least selective historically black colleges and universities in our ranking with an acceptance rate of 85%.
Virginia State University
Founded in 1882, Virginia State University is a top historically black university and one of Virginia's two land grant universities. One of the larger HCBUs in our ranking, the school is home to well over 4,000 undergraduate students and offers 31 bachelor's programs, 17 master's programs, and 2 doctoral programs. Popular majors include mass communication, criminal justice, media studies, social work, and physical education. The school is also one of the least selective historically black colleges and universities in the United States with a 94% acceptance rate.
Jefferson City, MO
Named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln University was founded in 1854 and was the first degree-granting historically black university in the United States. The school now offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs from its three colleges: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Professional, Graduate, and Extended Studies, and the College of Science and Technology. Popular majors amongst Lincoln students include public administration, business, social sciences, and biomedical sciences. Though small, the student body is diverse; students attend Lincoln from 30 different states and 15 foreign countries.
Dillard University is a top historically black university that provides undergraduate students with a top-tier, four-year liberal arts education. The school has a highly acclaimed nursing program as well as a Student Success division which provides support for students and focuses on retention. The school's freshman retention rate is 70%. In addition to nursing, other popular majors at Dillard include business administration and sociology. Students who graduate from this HCBU are prepared to enter prestigious graduate schools such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins. Dillard is one of the most selective historically black colleges on our list with a 38% acceptance rate.
Holly Springs, MS
One of the smaller historically black colleges on our list, Rust College is home to just over 1,000 undergraduate students. The private, coeducational college was founded in 1866 and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Today, it offers both associates and bachelors degrees in seventeen different academic areas. Popular majors include biology, childcare, broadcast journalism, and computer science. Rust College has a higher student to faculty ratio than many of the other historically black colleges and universities in this ranking at 21:1.
Mississippi Valley State University
One of the youngest historically black colleges and universities on our list, Mississippi Valley State University was founded in 1950. Today, this private, co-ed HCBU is home to just over 2,000 undergraduate students. The student to faculty ratio is only 15:1, and most classes have less than 20 students. In addition to intimate classroom settings, the university boasts a knowledgeable faculty, with 68% of professors holding a doctoral degree. Popular majors at the university include business, marketing, public administration, homeland security, and fitness studies. Mississippi State is also one of the least selective historically black schools in this ranking; 84% of prospective students who apply to the university are accepted.
Founded in 1877, Philander Smith College is a top historically black college and the only Negro College Fund institute in the state of Arkansas. The private urban school is small with just 765 undergraduate students, and it offers just four types of degrees: bachelor of arts degrees, bachelor of science degrees, bachelor of business administration degrees, and bachelor of social work degrees. Popular majors include psychology, sociology, business administration, and English language and literature. In comparison with other historically black colleges and universities, Philander Smith is fairly selective with an acceptance rate of 52%.
Clark Atlanta University is a top historically black university located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. It is a private university and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Enrollment numbers are just under 3,500 students, and the school offers degrees at every level in 38 different subject areas. Popular majors include communications, journalism, psychology, visual and performing arts, business, and marketing. Class sizes are small, and 80% of faculty members hold a PhD or equivalent in their fields. Clark Atlanta is also one of the less selective historically black colleges in this ranking, with an acceptance rate of 72%.
Southern University of New Orleans
Established in 1956, Southern University of New Orleans is a leading historically black university located less than ten miles from downtown New Orleans. The four-year, public, coeducational university offers associates through master's degree programs, including in-demand offerings such as computer information systems, health information management systems, business administration, and teacher education, for example. The university is mid-size in comparison with the other historically black colleges and universities in this ranking with a student body of approximately 2,420.
Le Moyne-Owen College is the result of a 1968 merger of Le Moyne College and Owen College, two private historically black colleges. The school is now a fully accredited four-year institution offering bachelor of science degrees, bachelor of arts degrees, and bachelor of business administration degrees in 23 different areas of study from five academic divisions: the Division of Business & Economic Development, the Division of Education, the Division of Fine Arts & Humanities, the Division of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, and the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Le Moyne-Owen is also one of the several faith-based historically black colleges in this ranking and is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
Paul Quinn College is one of the several faith-based historically black colleges in our ranking. The private, four-year liberal arts college was founded in 1872 and is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The school offers a small number of comprehensive degree programs in fields such as legal studies, business administration, liberal arts, health and wellness, and religious studies. Paul Quinn boasts an exceptionally low student to faculty ratio of 9:1. It is also in the process of becoming a work college, meaning students will graduate with minimal debt.
Talladega College is a private, four-year historically black college providing bachelors degrees in the liberal arts tradition. The school was founded in 1867 and is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Students can pursue one of 17 majors, and class sizes are small; the school's average student to faculty ratio is just 12:1. The majority of students not only earn a bachelor's degree, but they go on to pursue advanced degrees as well. Eighty percent of students enter graduate school after their program completion.
Founded in 1897, Langston University is one of the smallest historically black colleges and universities in the country with just over 2,000 undergraduate students. Class sizes are expectedly small as well; the student to faculty ratio is 17:1. The school has a well-known doctoral program in physical therapy, and other standout areas of study include biotechnology, urban education, goat research, rehabilitation counseling, and international studies. Comparatively, Langston University is one of the less selective historically black colleges and universities with a 52% acceptance rate.
Grambling State University
Grambling State University was founded in 1901 by the North Louisiana Colored Agriculture Relief Association. Today, the school is a leading historically black university offering 47 different degree programs from 5 distinct colleges. Popular majors include criminal justice/safety studies, communications, biology, and registered nursing. The student to faculty ratio at Grambling State is a little higher than some of the other historically black colleges and universities in our ranking, but at 20:1, it is still low enough for students to receive individualized instruction from professors.
South Carolina State University
An 1890 land grant institution of higher education, South Carolina State University remains South Carolina's only public HBCU. The school has 2,529 undergraduate students, but it also offers master's degrees, educational specialist degrees, and doctoral degrees. Popular majors include physical education teaching and coaching, criminal justice/law enforcement administration, family and consumer sciences, and mass communication/media studies. The student to faculty ratio is 17:1, and more than 60% of classes are comprised of fewer than 20 students.
Founded in 1876, Stillman College is a private coeducational liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The school is small, serving approximately 1,000 undergraduate students. It is also fairly selective, accepting just over half of all applicants. Stillman is known for its superb degree offerings in business administration, biological sciences, and teacher education, but many other majors are available as well. The faculty is highly knowledgeable, with 92% of professors holding PhDs in their respective subject areas.
Founded in 1873, Wiley College is a leading historically black college and the first black college established west of the Mississippi River. A private, suburban, primarily liberal arts college, the school offer 14 undergraduate majors from 4 different academic divisions. The latest student enrollment numbers put the student body at just 1,390, making Wiley one of the smaller historically black colleges and universities in this ranking and in the country. Classes are also small, averaging about 20 students, and the student to faculty ratio fluctuates between 17:1 and 19:1. Wiley College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and the United Negro College Fund.
A top Christian historically black college, Morris College was founded in 1908 under authorization from the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of South Carolina. This undergraduate school offers bachelor's degrees in the arts and sciences as well as career and professional fields, including a variety of subject areas including Christian education, organizational management, mass communications, pastoral ministry, and recreational administration among others. Morris is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and is a member of the United Negro College Fund.
One of the smaller historically black colleges and universities in the United States, Miles College is a private liberal arts college that serves approximately 1700 undergraduate students. Enrolled students can choose from 28 different bachelor's degree programs from six distinct academic divisions. Popular majors include criminal justice, political science, history, and computer and information sciences. The school was founded in 1898 with a foundation in the values of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Miles is one of just 39 historically black colleges and universities in the country to have been designated as a United Negro College Fund Institution.
Paine College is a private, coeducational historically black college founded in 1882. The school is affiliated with both the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church, so there is a heavy emphasis on students' spiritual development. The school's academic offerings are somewhat limited, but it does offer both BA and BS degree programs in six different areas from two distinct schools: the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Professional Studies. Majors include topics in humanities, education, business, media studies, and more. Paine is one of the more selective historically black colleges and universities on our list with a 31% acceptance rate.
Voorhees College was founded in 1897 and was the first historically black college in the state of South Carolina to be accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools. Voorhees is a four-year private liberal arts college affiliated with the Episcopal Church and the United Negro College Fund. The school offers degrees in twelve different disciplines, including mass communication, organizational management, health & recreation, and computer science. The school is one of the least selective historically black colleges and universities in the nation, with a 93% acceptance rate.
A leading historically black college, Benedict College is a private liberal arts school founded in 1870. The school honors its roots as a HCBU by giving back to the black community. Among many other honors, the school has been awarded the National Civic Engagement Award by the Washington Center for its community involvement. The school is located in an urban setting with a diverse faculty, 60% of whom hold terminal degrees in their respective fields. New students are embraced by this historically black college, and the average freshman retention rate is 60%.
Founded in 1879, Livingstone College is a private historically black college affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The school is one of the smaller HCBUs in our ranking with well under 2,000 students. Popular majors at Livingstone include secondary education, sport and fitness administration, business administration, and liberal studies. The college is fairly selective, with a 48% acceptance rate. Livingstone has recently adopted a unique holistic learning program, which provides instruction on debt management, health and wellness, social responsibility, and more.
Wilberforce University is a historically black university founded in 1865 by leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The school is a private, urban, student-centered university with a rural setting, yet close to urban centers such as Daytona and Cincinnati. It offers 19 undergraduate degree programs and 1 graduate degree program. Dual degree programs are also offered in architecture, aerospace, and nuclear engineering. Wilberforce is a member of the United Negro College Fund and embraces the core values of Christian principles, quality education, and social and community responsibility.
Founded in 1894, Texas College is a top historically black college affiliated with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Negro College Fund. The school is a four-year college, offering 12 bachelor's degree programs in areas of study such as mathematics, music, business administration, computer science, sociology, and more. It also offers two associate of arts programs in early childhood education and general studies. The student to faculty ratio is higher than most of the other historically black colleges and universities in this ranking at 20:1, but students do receive support services such as academic tutoring and advising.
Founded in 1865, Shaw University is one of the oldest historically black universities in the nation and the first HCBU established in the South. It is a relatively small urban school with well under 2,000 undergraduate students, and the student to faculty ratio is 19:1 with nearly half of all classes having less than 20 students. Popular majors at the university include marketing; public administration; parks, recreation, and fitness studies; journalism; and social sciences. Shaw is a fairly selective school, with 44% percent of all students being accepted by the university.
Historically black colleges and universities, sometimes referred to as HBCUs, are those institutes of higher education that were established prior to the year 1964 in order to fill the gap left by the many colleges and universities who at the time served only white students due to segregation. Even so, these institutions have always been open to the enrollment of students of all races and ethnicities, and many have become increasingly diverse in recent years. Still, the primary mission of these schools is to provide for the education and enrichment of African Americans.
There are 107 historically black colleges and universities in the United States located in 19 different states across the country as well as in the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands. As one might expect, the vast majority of these schools are located in former slave states, but there are a few exceptions. There are different types of HBCUs, including community colleges, four-year schools, public institutions, private universities, and specialty institutions like medical and law schools.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Background
Prior to the Civil War, there were no institutes of higher education for African Americans. To make matters worse, some parts of the country prohibited the education of black students. In 1837, Richard Humphreys founded the Institute for Colored Youth in Pennsylvania in order to provide education to students of color. The institute began as an agricultural and mechanical school and did not offer formal degrees until 1913 when it began training teachers. By then, it had changed its name to Cheyney University. It remains the oldest institute of postsecondary education for African Americans today. In 1854, Lincoln University was founded as the first degree-granting institute of higher education for African Americans. Today, it remains a vibrant historically black university and is ranked #20 among all HCBUs by US News & World Report. Two years later in 1856, Wilberforce University was founded as the first institute of higher education owned and operated by African Americans. The university continues to provide undergraduate and graduate degrees today.
With the few exceptions above, many African Americans (especially those located in the Southern states) were still hard-pressed to find institutions willing to provide them with any kind of postsecondary education until the year 1890 when the second Morrill Act was passed. The act mandated former Confederate states to open colleges for African American students that paralleled the traditionally white universities established by the first Morrill Act. This act allowed states to fund institutes of higher education through proceeds from the sale of federal land. The resulting schools became known as land grant colleges, and they were established in 17 states.
In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that African Americans must be granted “separate but equal” facilities, including those that provided educational services, in the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson. In reality, though, institutes of higher education for black students often received less public funding, and therefore, were almost always of lower quality than traditionally white schools. In many cases, the teachers were poorly prepared, and important equipment and resources such as textbooks, for instance, were often inferior. In 1954, Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned by another landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education when the Supreme Court called for the desegregation of all schools in the United States. Though segregation is no longer an issue in the US, HCBUs still honor their origins and continue their plight for excellence in education for African Americans.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities Today
At the time of their establishment, historically black colleges and universities were the only option for African Americans who desired to pursue higher education. Thus, their principle purpose was to educate black students. Today, students from every race and background have equal access to higher education, so the mission of HBCUs has evolved. Today, HBCUS have the unique challenge of honoring their past and traditions while simultaneously encouraging and embracing diversity. Historically black colleges and universities have become increasingly diverse over the years. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 21% of students attending HCBUs were non-Black students. This is up from 15% in 1976.
Why Attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities?
There are many reasons to consider attending one of the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities in the United States, and for many prospective students, it is a very personal decision. Many African American students enjoy the comradery of living and studying among fellow black students while others attend HCBUs to honor their culture and ancestry. Many prestigious African Americans have attended historically black colleges, including celebrities, famous athletes, and of course, civil rights leaders. Many students who choose to attend HBCUs enjoy knowing that they are studying on the same campus as these leaders and role models did in days long gone.
All students can benefit from the exceptional sense of community perpetuated by many HCBUs, though. Moreover, some historically black colleges and universities tend to promote more activism than traditionally white institutions of higher education. Students are often passionate and enthusiastic about a wide range of social issues, not only those that specifically affect African Americans.
Historically Black Student Clubs and Organizations
Generally speaking, historically black colleges and universities have exceptionally close-knit and active student organizations. Many of the students in this ranking, for instance, have more than 100 student clubs and organizations on campus for students to choose from. Some of these organizations seek to honor African American culture. Some examples of such clubs and organizations are listed below.
- The Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA)
- Black Men Making a Difference (BMMAD)
- Black Student Union (BSU)
- Black Women’s Caucus (BWC)
- National Pan-Hellenic Council
- National Society of Black Engineers
Of course, students enrolled at historically black colleges and universities are encouraged to join other types of student associations as well, including those focused on a particular academic area of study as well as clubs and organizations centered around extracurricular interests such as sports, music, politics, community service, social activism, hobbies, and more.
Historically Black College and University Classes
What are classes like at historically black colleges and universities? Unlike many traditionally white schools, historically black schools tend to have smaller class sizes and strive for low student to faculty ratios. For instance, none of the schools listed in this ranking have a student to faculty ratio of over 20:1. These smaller, more intimate settings foster a learning environment that is much more effective for some students, one in which answers to questions can be quickly and directly addressed, and students can form meaningful and collaborative relationships with their professors and classmates. Such classrooms also facilitate mentorships that can make the difference between success and failure for many students.
When you attend a historically black college or university, the size of the school will typically be small as well. The largest school in this ranking, for example, enrolls just over 10,000 students. Smaller enrollment numbers usually translate to a more familial, community-like environment many students will find uplifting. Leaving home for the first time can be intimidating for any student, especially first-generation college students, and being in an environment where someone remembers your name can make all the difference.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Academics
Academics should always be at the top of the list when choosing an institute of higher education. Historically black colleges and universities offer academic programs that parallel or, in some cases, supersede traditionally white schools in terms of rigor and breadth. Desegregation plans enacted by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has enabled these schools to establish special academic programs, including in-demand offerings in engineering, pharmacy, and computer science, for example. HCBUS offer degree programs on every postsecondary level, including associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and PhDs. However, the vast majority of degrees conferred at historically black colleges are baccalaureate degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
College courses are known for being rigorous, and this can be a transition for many students who are accustomed to the ease of high school classes. There’s good news for those considering historically black colleges and universities, though. Those students who may struggle academically will find plenty of support at these schools. Because they were initially established to provide assistance to educationally disadvantaged populations, they are devoted to providing adequate remediation and assistance to struggling students. This may come in the form of additional academic labs, tutoring programs, remedial courses, and other forms of educational support. As a result of all of this extra support, historically black colleges and universities typically have higher than average graduation rates.
Financial Aid for Students Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Cost is almost always a factor for students when choosing a postsecondary school. Although grants and loans are possibilities for students, despite what type of college or university they choose to attend, scholarships are among the most coveted forms of financial assistance. Some organizations offer specific scholarships for students planning to attend a historically black college or university. These scholarships can cover all or part of the costs of attending college, including tuition, books, housing, and other expenses. Depending on the amount of the scholarship being offered, this could be the deciding factor for students considering enrollment at a HCBU. Some examples can be found below:
- Diversity Advancement Program Scholarship
- Buick Achievers Scholarship
- Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship
- Ronald McDonald House Charities/African-American Future Achievers Scholarship
- Xerox Minority Scholarship
It is important to note that these scholarships can be extremely competitive. Students must make excellent grades in high school and score high on college admissions exams such as the SAT and ACT in order to qualify.