For the past two years, there has been an increase in enrollment for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). There are 101 HBCUs located in 19 states: 52 are public while 49 are private. Although they only make up about 3% of the colleges and universities, they graduate 27% of Black students with bachelor's degrees in STEM fields. The majority of the population, 60%, consists of first-generation, low-income college students. North Carolina A & T has the largest campus and the top producer of Black engineers. HBCUs produce:
● 27% of all African-American STEM graduates
● 40% of all African-American engineers
● 50% of all African-American lawyers
● 50% of all African-American public-school teachers
● 80% of all African-American judges
Under the Morrill Act of 1862, Congress granted 30,000 acres of land for each senator and representative it had in Congress. The purpose of the land was to create colleges for agriculture and the mechanical arts. Although the primary goal of this initiative was to educate Black students, today, more than 20% of the population are non-Black. They took many of today's institutions from the erosion of Native American lands by treaties, and The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 pushed many Native Americans to reservations in the west.
Unfortunately, 100,000 Native Americans were displaced, and 15,000 died during the Trail of Tears. Furthermore, based on Manifest Destiny, the patriarchs believed that God ordained them to take over the continent of North America.
In 1890, the second Morrill Act provided land grants for 17 African-American and 30 Native American colleges; however, southern state-funded colleges and universities did not want formerly enslaved individuals attending the same institutions as whites.
Quaker philanthropist, Richard Humphreys, founded the first HBCU, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, in 1837 to prepare people of African descent as teachers. It was first known as the African Institute and was soon renamed the Institute for Colored Youth. In 1902, they relocated to George Cheyney's farm and eventually became the Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1983. Wilberforce University, in 1856, became the first Black-owned and operated university. The Reconstruction Period (1865-1877) was supposed to be the time for the rebirth of Blacks; however, the progress became disrupted by the Compromise of 1877 deal when President Rutherford P. Hayes removed the last federal troops from the south.
Before Martin vs. Malcolm, there was Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. DuBois. Washington graduated from Hampton University, a product of an enslaved woman and a white man from a neighboring plantation, who became the Tuskegee Institute’s leader. DuBois was a Fisk University and Harvard University graduate, sociologist, and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both men were committed to uplifting Blacks to social mobility but shared different ideologies on how to get there, which led to the great debate.
Washington felt that Blacks should concentrate on industrial and agriculture training. In his Atlanta Compromise, he had an “accommodationist" philosophy and stressed the importance of not buckling the system and that Blacks should accept the discrimination for the time being. On the contrary, DuBois believed in political action and favored a more rigorous liberal education. However, the debate is still prevalent when considering the correct paths for students. For many years, society has told high school students that higher education is the only path to social mobility. However, many individuals are successful without a four-year college degree. Vocational training like plumbing and carpentry gives individuals access to economic security without the time commitment and astronomical loan debt.
The Brown v. Board of Education ruling and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced colleges and universities that historically discriminated against Blacks to integrate. After desegregation, some HBCUs closed; in 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed the executive order for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Unfortunately, funding has been a prevalent issue in why the number of HBCUs is decreasing. In 2020, the average endowment for white land grants was $1.9 million, while Black schools were $34 million.
Accreditation is another issue. For example, in a white paper, the United Negro Fund stated that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), a post-secondary accreditor for 11 southern states, had a biased peer review process toward HBCUs. As a result, they placed many HBCUs on warning or probation between 1998 and 2013. Since most of these institutions are in the south, the SACSCOC is the primary accreditor and has the power to take accreditations away from these institutions. Morris Brown was one of these institutions that lost its status but regained it last year through the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).
There has been an influx of Blacks relocating back to the south. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, many attended HBCUs because of the television show A Different World and the movie School Daze. Since 2020, there has been an increase in enrollment—HBCUs and Morgan State University by about 60% and Spelman College by 22%.
It is time to reinvest in the institutions that gave African-Americans their first start when Predominantly White institutions denied them access. On April 28, 2015, Congresswoman Alma S. Adams founded the HBCU Caucus. She earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees from North Carolina A&T State University and her doctorate from Ohio State University; she knew the importance of reinvesting into these institutions because she was a product of one. Adams co-chairs this caucus with Congressman French Hill (R-AR), Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC. This bipartisan and bicameral 108-membered partnership aims to "promote and protect the interests of HBCUs."
Last year, this caucus sponsored and helped pass the Institutional Grants for New Infrastructure, Technology, and Education at HBCUs Act (IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act). The funding from this act will help modernize and establish community partnerships to help support provide academic, health, and social support not only for the campuses but to the surrounding communities. Also, the HBCU Caucus offers an eight-week internship program where the students gain invaluable hands-on experience, like examining policy issues and supporting legislative and communications staff from both Democrat and Republican offices.
Although HBCUs are on the up and up, today, they are targets for terrorism and intimidation. White fear and the mentality that I belong everywhere contribute to these problems. Howard University is in Washington, D.C. Due to gentrification, this once predominately black neighborhood is becoming whiter and wealthier every year. The Yard serves as the heartbeat of the campus and is the place where students can hang out and catch up between classes. Much of the Civil Rights Movement planning occurred in the Yard.
Today, some new residents disregard the campus's rich history by walking their dogs, picnicking, and jogging there. During an interview on Fox5, one new resident stated that the students should move" if they dislike the residents treating this private institution as a public park, which is an example of how some believe that all spaces are theirs and Blacks should not call them their own.
To help maintain the longevity of HBCUs, we must establish more partnerships with businesses, philanthropists, and universities. For example, Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, gave $560 million to 23 HBCUs. This past winter, the NBA launched its first HBCU Fellowship Program for undergraduate and graduate students seeking to gain real-life experience in basketball operations.
To increase growth, HBCUs must develop more articulate agreements with universities and colleges to create more college pathways for students. Furthermore, many of the top institutions in the country have gleaming state-of-the-art research centers, and HBCUs must invest in this area.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities are known for producing the firsts, scholars, and elected officials. Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Toni Morrison are notable alumni. These individuals broke down barriers and were instrumental in fighting for civil rights. Students of color need to be surrounded by black excellence, especially during a time in which media and history deniers refuse to highlight the contributions made by people that look like them, representation matters.
Generations of racial trauma and the feeling of unworthiness have impeded the progress of black folks. HBCUs are instrumental in establishing a strong sense of self through same-race mentorship. Students need to see positive images and exemplars of Black success, so the alumni display pride in their institutions and use newfound knowledge to recruit and attract the next generation of HBCU students.
The next time you talk to high school students about their college plans, tell them to consider enrolling at an HBCU, an invaluable experience that will prepare them to be the next leader of tomorrow. As these institutions become diverse, new students must honor the history of these institutions and create learning environments where all are welcome.