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What Is HBCU?

College
by Chanelle Garzon
December 26, 2023
10 min read
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Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, play a significantly important role not only in the American educational system but for African Americans, as well. HBCUs have long existed based on the values of some of the most influential black scholars in history and are still conquering the educational realm for black Americans today. These institutions have a rich culture full of history that has shaped the lives of countless students for decades.

In this Bold guide, we will go over everything that is HBCU. We talk about what they are, why they're so important to the educational system and the black community, we go over some of the most popular HBCUs in the country, and more, because at Bold.org, we want you to be well informed.

If you're thinking about attending an HBCU, be sure to check out our Scholarship Blog to learn how you can create a profile and start applying for scholarships.

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The Importance of HBCUs

It's important to know that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) aren't just colleges and universities. HBCUs are historical institutions for higher learning that were established before 1964. Their primary mission was to serve the African-American community during a time of segregation and inequality. HBCUs were meant to offer black students the same opportunities for higher education as white Americans, and 50+ years later, they still hold that same purpose.

Let's look deeper into the fascinating world of HBCUs and explore why they're so important.

Definition and Purpose of HBCUs

HBCUs are defined by their dedication and ongoing commitment to providing a quality education for African-American students. These institutions focus on the importance of academic excellence and social justice and work with their community to create an inclusive and supportive environment that empowers students to reach their full potential. And, now more than ever, there's nothing more important than making sure the kids of today become the leaders of tomorrow.

HBCUs' main principal mission is to address the educational disparities African Americans face due to systemic racism. They offer specialized programs designed for African-American students and aim to bridge the educational gap between them and other universities to create more success.

HBCUs take pride in preserving African-American culture and heritage. These institutions celebrate and promote their deep-rooted history, traditions, and contributions to education. They encourage students to be pillars of change in their communities and teach them the skills they need to challenge systemic inequalities. But most importantly, HBCUs provide a safe place for black students to identify with their peers and take pride in their identity.

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The Historical Background of HBCUs

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1837 and is known for being the first HBCU in the country. Coming out of one of the original 13 colonies, Cheyney was established to educate black students during a time when school segregation was limiting the opportunity for black students to seek higher education. But the need for these institutions started long before.

African Americans were unfortunately denied access to basic essentials like housing and better opportunities like education, perpetuating a cycle of oppression and discrimination for years until it all changed.

HBCUs such as Howard University, Tuskegee University, and Morehouse School have educated some of the most brilliant minds who have made significant contributions to African-American history. From civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to trailblazing politicians like Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, HBCU graduates have left an undeniable mark on society and history.

HBCUs are also known for their educational focus on programs like finance, medicine, law, business, science, and the arts. These institutions have consistently demonstrated their commitment to academic excellence and have nurtured countless individuals who have gone on to achieve greatness. HBCUs are more than just educational institutions. They are symbols of resilience.

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The Importance of HBCUs in Higher Education

Needless to say, HBCUs play a huge role in higher education. Not only do they promote diversity, they believe in the equity of higher education. Not to mention, these institutions provide a supportive environment that strives for academic achievement and personal growth for young African-American students.

HBCUs believe in the African-American community. They built these institutions in support of equality, which was lacking for black students back then. That's why they actively promote equality and diversity by opening their doors to students of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Yes, that's right. You don't need to be African American to attend an HBCU. HBCUs create a space for all students to engage in meaningful dialogue, learn from one another, and bridge the gaps in cross-cultural understanding.

Fun Fact: HBCUs recruit faculty members from diverse backgrounds, ensuring that students are exposed to a wide range of perspectives and experiences. This not only enriches the learning environment but also prepares students to thrive in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.

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HBCUs' Contribution to African-American Achievement

HBCUs have a long-standing tradition of nurturing exceptional talent within the African-American community. These institutions have played a pivotal role in the lives of successful graduates who have made groundbreaking contributions in professional fields such as science, technology, business, and the arts.

From legends like Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, to Oprah Winfrey, a media mogul, HBCUs have helped shape the lives of some of the most professional African-American leaders in the US. 

It's important to note that at HBCUs, students are not just numbers and seats to fill; they are a part of a long-standing piece of history and a close-knit community that supports and uplifts one another. The smaller class sizes, the more personalized attention students receive from faculty members and educators alike. They also contribute to a more individualized learning experience, allowing students to thrive and reach their full potential.

All in all, HBCUs are more than just institutions of higher education. Through their commitment to higher education, promoting diversity, and nurturing African-American talent, HBCUs continue to influence and shape the future of higher education and society as a whole.

most popular histroically black colleges

It's safe to say HBCUs have had more than enough reasonable progress in the last 50 years. Today, some of the most well-known colleges and universities in the country are HBCUs, still producing well-rounded professionals and leaders.

Below is a list of the five most popular HBCUs in the country.

  1. Spelman College - Located in Atlanta, GA, and founded in 181, Spelman College is the oldest HBCU in the country and also ranks as the #1 historically black college. They are best known for their all-women student body and their liberal arts programs.
  2. Howard University - Located in Washington, D.C., Howard University is a private, federally chartered HBCU known for its research programs.
  3. Florida A&M University - In the heart of Tallahassee, FL, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University is a public HBCU that breeds some of the hardest working journalists in the industry.
  4. Morehouse College - Another Atlanta, GA native, Morehouse College is an all-male HBCU that thrives in its programs like business, management, marketing, communications, and sciences.
  5. Tuskegee University - Located in Tuskegee, AL, and founded on Independence Day in 1881, TU is a private, land-grant HBCU known for being a registered national historic landmark. Some notable alumni are Ralph Ellison, Lionel Richie, and Keenan Ivory Wayans.

These elite institutions are only the tip of the iceberg regarding historically black colleges. They are some of the most sought-after black colleges and universities, and while they are predominantly black institutions, their values extend to all races.

If you're wondering about other public and private institutions, here are some more successful and known black colleges or universities:

  • Lincoln University
  • Shelton State Community College
  • Talladega College
  • Hampton Institute
  • Smith University
  • Fisk University
  • Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Alabama State University
  • Clark Atlanta University
  • Jackson State University

But don't limit yourself. Take some time and do more research on these schools, and be ready to choose the historically black college for your future!

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Academic Opportunities at HBCUs

When you step onto an HBCU campus, you can immediately feel the energy and pride in the air. Students and faculty know they are of something bigger than education. They are valued and supported, even through a long and painful history. But no matter the circumstances and oppressive tactics, black educators succeeded in creating some of the most incredible academic opportunities for African Americans.

HBCUs offer a wide range of courses and programs that provide students with solid academic opportunities that prepare them for future success. These institutions are long-standing committed to educational excellence and promoting a supportive learning environment for students of all backgrounds. At HBCUs, students can explore academic offerings across various industries.

From STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to humanities, social sciences, education, and business, HBCUs provide a top education that prepares students with the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in their chosen fields.

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One of the most cherished aspects of HBCU culture is its strong sense of tradition. Homecoming celebrations, for example, are a highlight of the academic year, as well as on-campus parades, football games, and pep rallies. These events bring together current students, alumni, and the surrounding community in support of not only the school but its tradition.

Additionally, mentorship and support services are accessible at HBCUs. Faculty and staff are committed to the success and well-being of their students, providing guidance, encouragement, and resources to help guide them through their academic and personal journeys. HBCUs understand that education is not just about acquiring knowledge; it's about empowering individuals to reach their full potential.

HBCUs have a deep-rooted history that inspired their mission to impact the lives of African-American students and society as a whole. These institutions offer academic opportunities and provide a supportive environment for personal and professional growth. Whether it's forming lifelong relationships or pursuing academic excellence, HBCUs have so much to offer students who are ready to embrace this unique educational journey.

Range of Courses and Programs

HBCUs pride themselves on offering a broad range of courses and programs that cater to the goals and interests of their students. Whether you're interested in pursuing a degree in computer science, psychology, history, or entrepreneurship, HBCUs have you covered!

These institutions understand the importance of providing students with a well-rounded education. They offer a diverse curriculum that not only focuses on academic excellence but also teaches you how to sharpen your critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills. Students are encouraged to explore their passions and pursue interdisciplinary studies, allowing them to develop a holistic understanding of the world.

Choosing the Right HBCU

Choosing the Right HBCU

Choosing the right HBCU can make or break the college experience for black students. It's an important decision to make, which is why several factors should be taken into account to ensure the HBCU of your choosing is the best fit for your needs and goals.

Some factors to consider are:

  • Academic programs
  • Location
  • Student life
  • Campus culture should be considered.

It's crucial to do your research and explore various HBCUs to see what they offer before making a decision. We want to ensure your educational institution checks all the boxes and will give you the education you deserve.

Preparing for Life at an HBCU

Preparing for life at an HBCU involves understanding what to expect as a student. As an HBCU student, you can expect to be nurtured in more than just educational ways. You will be culturally and personally supported, as well as guided through some of the best years of your life. You will share the same experiences as other colored youth, building meaningful relationships with like-minded individuals who share the same values as you. And that's the beauty of HBCUs. They create close-knit communities that make the HBCU experience unique.

Tips for Success at an HBCU

Now that you know what to expect out of an HBCU, here are some tips that can help you succeed at an HBCU.

  • Establish meaningful connections with others and engage in campus activities to get your name out there
  • Seek mentorship opportunities that could possibly set you up for the future
  • Actively participate in the academic and social communities
  • Prioritize your goals for long-term success
  • Develop good time management skills
  • Take advantage of support services
  • .Use your resources
  • And most importantly, have fun!
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Frequently Asked Questions About HBCUs

Can I attend HBCUs if I’m not African American?

Yes! One of the most honorable and inspiring things about HBCUs is that they believe in community and open their doors to anyone who wants an exceptional education. So, no matter who you are, don't hesitate to apply to the HBCU of your dreams.

What is the best HBCU for me?

The best HBCU is solely based on your educational goals and what aligns best with your future. So, if you're a STEM student, you'd want to go to an HBCU that focuses on science and technology practices. Likewise, if you're an aspiring medical student, you'd probably go for an HBCU known for its medical programs. It's completely up to you! Just make sure it supports your educational and professional aspirations.

Why are HBCUs so important?

HBCUs are more than just black institutions. They are symbols of resilience and remembrance that anything is possible. They provide young black students fair, safe places to obtain higher education and build legacies within their communities. You, too, could be a notable alumni at any HBCU in the US. Why? Because HBCUs support the successes of African Americans and will always encourage them to reach their highest potential.

Are you interested in attending an HBCU? Visit our blog to learn how to apply for scholarships today!

Chanelle Garzon
Content Writer

About Chanelle

Chanelle is a dedicated and seasoned writer, editor, and researcher. She’s familiar with college admissions, finding and applying for scholarships, and the financial aid process.

She graduated from the University of South Florida with a major in English, Creative Writing with a specialization in Technical Writing.

Experience

Chanelle has over a decade of experience in the writing industry, specializing in blog writing, SEO writing, editing, translations, corporate writing, and various forms of creative writing. She founded and operated Femme Feature Magazine, an online and print publication dedicated to celebrating women in all corners of the creative field. An avid reader, Chanelle is constantly seeking refined and innovative ways to tell her stories. Writing is her foremost passion, and she is always on the lookout for her next narrative adventure.

Since joining the Bold.org team as a Content Writer in 2023, Chanelle has brought her enthusiasm for merging the writing and digital worlds. She is dedicated to assisting students and young adults in navigating their educational and professional journeys.

Chanelle's unwavering commitment to her craft and her dedication to helping others shine through in her work. Leveraging her personal and professional experiences, she provides invaluable support to students, empowering them to achieve their goals and realize their potential.

Quote from Chanelle

“There is always a way to say the same thing over and over again. You just have to be creative and think outside the box.”


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