Since their founding in segregation, the nation's historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been studies in resourcefulness, contrasts, resoluteness, possibilities and miracles. For over a century, HBCUs have been producing graduates who have not only contributed to improving the quality of life for all Americans, but also conducted research that has strengthened the country’s infrastructure and advanced the frontiers of knowledge. Today, HBCUs continue to contribute significantly to the Black middle class and the nation’s economy.
The 105 HBCUs represent just 3% of the nation's institutions of higher learning, servicing over 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students. While HBCUs have less funding, less support and fewer resources for students than comparable majority institutions, remarkably this small group of colleges confers 40% of all STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) degrees and 60% of all engineering degrees earned by Black students. HBCUs also educate half of the country’s Black teachers and 40% of all Black health professionals. “HBCUs provide a culturally affirming, psychologically supportive environment” says Chancellor Charlie Nelms of North Carolina Central University in Durham. “Students don’t have to prove they belong at HBCUs, which provide their students “intentional, intrusive, focused” academic assistance, says Nelms.
The fact is that most HBCU graduates believe that the special attention provided by faculty and administrators on how to successfully navigate in the "real" world, with an emphasis on sharpening communication skills (speaking, writing) is an advantage not available to Blacks at majority White institutions. Those same students believe that they are also sensitized to the possible barriers a Black graduate will encounter and an awareness of the resistance that exists and are supplied with the tools that can be used to help overcome any obstacles thrown in their path. Also, because of the existence of HBCUs, diligent, highly motivated students are able to pursue quality education despite less than stellar standardized test scores. Their philosophy is to provide access to education for students who want to pursue higher education, aware of the fact that not all students have the maturity and focus to achieve high grades in high school. Yet many of these students are perfectly competent, capable students, late bloomers if you will, who do not accelerate academically until they reach college.
Because of their unique sensibility to the special needs of young Black minds, the Authority believes that HBCUs remain the institutions that demonstrate the most effective ability to graduate Black students who are poised to be competitive in the corporate, research, academic, governmental and military arenas. “Having the knowledge of self can't be underestimated when it comes to the learning experience and embarking on that journey of higher learning. I believe HBCUs give our children the foundation through the experience of being around their own kind, which strengthens their self-identity and knowledge of self,” said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
A few of the more well-known HBCU graduates include civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; former Surgeon General David Satcher; TLC/Beatrice Foods founder Reginald Lewis; Black Enterprise founder and publisher, Earl Graves; MC and actor, Common; music mogul Sean “P Diddy” Combs; Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson; television mogul Oprah Winfrey; and former Symantec CEO, John Thompson.
While some might undervalue a HBCU degree just as people of color are often assessed this way, new research from Morehouse College economist Gregory N. Price and two fellow economists from Howard University, William Spriggsand Omari H. Swinton, finds graduates of HBCUs do better in the labor market long term than non-HBCU grads. Their report, “The Relative Returns to Graduating from a Historically Black College/University,” considered the benefits of earning a baccalaureate degree from an HBCU compared to a non-HBCU for Black Americans. “Our results lend support to the idea that HBCUs continue to have a compelling educational justification, as the labor market outcomes of their graduates are superior to what they would have been had they graduated from a non-HBCU,” according to their article. The researchers suggest that HBCU graduates realize higher earnings relative to non-HBCU. As such, their results lend support to the idea that HBCUs in fact have a comparative advantage in nurturing the self-image, self-esteem and identity of graduates, which theoretically matters for labor market outcomes.
The Authority will help HBCUs increase their capacity to compete for top students and athletic talent. We will also help HBCUs tell their compelling stories and provide the facts to respond to the myths that have caused some to question the relevance of HBCUs.