Why choose a historically Black college or university (HBCU)? Through the years, HBCUs have provided a safe haven for Black students—a place where learners are able to obtain a quality education while immersed in a cultural setting that celebrates their heritage.
Below, we outline five reasons why students may want to attend a historically Black college or university and some of the benefits of an HBCU.
Why Attend an HBCU?
Historically Black colleges and universities and Black men’s colleges like Morehouse were established to provide Black Americans with a quality education. Today, they promote racial and cultural awareness and encourage equality and diversity. Students who attend these schools may obtain an HBCU bachelor’s degree, or they may go on to earn an HBCU master’s degree.
In addition, these institutions are generally part of a network of organizations that support Black students in their academic pursuits even after graduation.
Five Reasons to Consider an HBCU
Why go to an HBCU as opposed to another educational institution? Attending an HBCU holds several benefits, ranging from financial factors to social and academic considerations. The reasons for attending an HBCU or transferring to an HBCU will differ from person to person. Each school is unique, and there’s a lot to consider when determining which college is right for you.
1. HBCU Alumni Network
Historically Black colleges and universities have produced numerous famous alumni, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Jesse Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey and Vice President Kamala Harris.
The UNCF sponsors an organization called the National Alumni Council (NAC). The organization was founded in 1946 and aims to “support, promote, influence and strengthen” HBCUs.
The NAC has three sub-councils and associations. The UNCF National Pre-Alumni Council (NPAC) provides support to individual pre-alumni councils on UNCF-member college campuses. These pre-alumni councils urge students to participate in alumni activities before and after graduation. The Inter-Alumni Council (IAC) includes all local UNCF alumni associations and persons who support Black higher education. Lastly, the General Alumni Association refers to all of the colleges and universities that are members of the NAC.
2. HBCU Academic Environment
According to the UNCF, an estimated 3% of colleges and universities in the United States are HBCUs. Even though these institutions make up a small percentage of the nation’s higher education facilities, they produce nearly 20% of all Black graduates. These numbers suggest that although the coursework at HBCUs is just as rigorous as predominantly white institutions (PWIs), HBCUs foster an academic environment that sets Black students up for success.
Many HBCUs are home to chapters of Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs). These organizations, also called the Divine Nine, are overseen by the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). The council was founded in 1930 at Howard University and includes nine organizations:
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity
Both HBCU fraternities and HBCU sororities strive to promote brotherhood and sisterhood, encourage social change, and uplift the lives of Black students and the country as a whole. According to the NPHC’s website, the primary focus of NPHC organizations is “community awareness and action through educational, economic and cultural service activities.”
In addition to their Greek life, many HBCUs are known for their homecoming events. In an October 2020 article, The New York Times described HBCU homecomings as “part family reunion and part revival,” where attendants are “baptized in Blackness.” The tradition of HBCU homecomings has evolved and grown over the years, and they are often a full week-long experience.
4. Scholarships and Grants
There are a number of organizations that provide scholarships to individuals seeking an undergraduate HBCU degree. These scholarships are meant to assist students in completing their studies at historically Black colleges and universities by helping with tuition costs.
The United Negro College Fund is one of the largest providers of scholarships to minority students across the nation. Each year, the organization provides 60,000 students the opportunity to attend an HBCU.
The HBCU Foundation is another organization that provides HBCU scholarships to eligible students. The foundation offers scholarships to students who are enrolled full time at one of their HBCU member schools.
In addition, students may turn to online resources and directories for HBCU scholarship opportunities. Blackscholarships.org is dedicated to helping Black students find the latest scholarships. The organization’s website includes a section dedicated to HBCU scholarships that are specifically open to students pursuing an HBCU degree.
5. History and Legacy of HBCUs
Another reason why students may be attracted to HBCUs is their rich history and legacy.
Before the Civil War, there were very few higher education opportunities available for Black students, and the institutions that did serve Black students were primarily providing elementary and secondary schooling for individuals who had not received any previous education. It was not until the early 1900s that HBCUs started offering postsecondary programs and courses.
The benefits of attending an HBCU include financial, social and educational factors. HBCUs not only promote equality, but they also welcome and encourage diversity, offering a quality education to students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
HBCUs provide Black students with a space where they feel safe and supported while being surrounded by people who may have similar backgrounds and cultural experiences. A 2015 study conducted by Gallup found that Black graduates from HBCUs experience a greater sense of purpose and are more successful financially than their counterparts who graduated from other institutions. The study surveyed Black graduates on several aspects of personal well-being including purpose, social, financial, community and physical. In each category, HBCU graduates were more likely to rank themselves positively than non-HBCU graduates.
Tips on How to Find the Best HBCU for You
Once you have decided to attend an HBCU, you may wonder how to choose an HBCU that is right for you. Choosing a college or university is a big step, and there are unique considerations that vary from person to person.
It may be beneficial to look at each school’s course offerings and determine how their degree programs fit into your academic goals. There are also social elements at play when choosing an HBCU. It is important that students feel comfortable, safe and supported in their environment.
If possible, visit several campuses once you have compiled a list of HBCUs you are interested in attending. You may want to arrange multiple visits or stay overnight to get a good idea of the culture and atmosphere present on campus. Visiting the lecture rooms, dorms and Black fraternities or sororities may also help you decide whether the school is a good fit for you.
Why Choose a Historically Black College or University?
Why choose an HBCU? There are many benefits to earning a degree from an HBCU. These institutions provide equal opportunities in education while promoting cultural, racial and ethnic diversity.
If you are interested in attending a historically Black college or university but would prefer to complete an associate degree instead of a four-year degree program, there are multiple community colleges that are historically Black.
In many cases, students are able to transfer credits obtained from a community college to continue their education at an HBCU. For example, students who meet specific academic requirements can transfer to an HBCU that is participating in the “Degree with a Guarantee” program run by California Community Colleges. Other community colleges across the country have similar transfer programs in place that allow students to seamlessly transition their studies to an HBCU.