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Historically Black Colleges and Universities

By Michael Pugh

June 03, 2008

When picking out a college, you need to choose the institution that’s best for you. Size, location and price are important. But for many black students graduating from high school today, an even greater consideration is whether or not to attend a historically black college or university. Check out the pros and cons to decide if one of these schools is right for you.

A Record of Achievement

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions established before 1964 whose main mission is the education of black Americans. Presently, about 930,000 students are enrolled in the 98 HBCUs across the country.

HBCUs have made a name for themselves with the achievements of their impressive alumni. Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois all attended HCBUs. In the United States, 35 percent of black lawyers, 50 percent of black engineers and 65 percent of black physicians graduated from HBCUs. Eighteen percent of black college students are enrolled at HBCUs, which award 23 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans.

Support and Personalized Attention

Graduates of HBCUs like Nikki Hughes, an alumnus of Knoxville College, think this success comes from the supportive community within black schools. “I received one-on-one attention,” said Hughes, “It was a family atmosphere, where people wanted to know how you were doing.”

According to Mary Hollens, coordinator of off-campus programs for Lewis College of Business in Michigan, as soon as students walk through the door of a HBCU, there is the feeling that they can succeed. “Historically black colleges and universities offer a supportive environment to help students achieve.”

To fulfill this mission, HBCUs offer smaller classes in which students receive personalized attention from professors. Professors and administrators get to know the students better and serve as role models from the African-American community. Both the administration and the student population of HBCUs present an encouraging culture and history-conscious atmosphere.

Challenges Facing HBCUs

HCBUs’ commitment to their mission creates special challenges as well. One of the biggest challenges they face is finding the funding for premier resources. Because HBCUs are committed to helping students with fewer financial resources, they have to provide more for students with fewer tuition dollars.

As a result, the (NCES) reports that public HBCUs spent $15,100 per student in 2000, or about 12 percent less than the national average for public colleges and universities. Private HBCUs spent about 14 percent less per student than all private colleges and universities.

These financial challenges make it hard for HBCUs to keep up with other schools in technology, facilities and financial aid. It has also made it difficult for HBCUs to offer competitive salaries to their professors. The NCES reports that the faculty at HBCUs earn around 80 percent of the national average.

An Abiding Belief in the Mission

Despite these challenges, students and professors are continually attracted to HBCUs because they believe in their mission. Private companies and groups across the nation are also believers; organizations like the Wal-Mart Foundation, Lilly Endowment and Giant Food Corporation offer financial support to HBCUs. Some state governments have also provided financial assistance.

Historically black colleges and universities offer a unique approach to education by creating an environment of support, tradition and culture. Visit an HBCU on your college tour of colleges to see if they offer the right match for you.


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