The History of Historically Black Colleges & Universities
An HBCU is an institution whose principal mission was and is the education of black Americans. However, the enrollment policy is racially inclusive. According to the United Negro College Fund, there are 105 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the nation. Prior to the time of their establishment, and for many years afterwards, blacks were generally denied admission to traditionally white institutions. As a result, HBCUs became the principle means for providing post-secondary education to black Americans. Prior to the Civil War, there was no structured higher education system for black students. Public policy and certain statutory provisions prohibited the education of blacks in various parts of the nation. The few who did receive schooling, often studied in informal and sometimes hostile settings. Some were forced to teach themselves entirely.
The Institute for Colored Youth, the first higher education institution for blacks was started in the early 1830s by a group of Philadelphia Quakers then moved to Cheyney, Pennsylvania in 1837. It was followed by two other black institutions–Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania (1854), and Wilberforce University, in Ohio (1856).
In 1862, senator Justin Morrill spearheaded a movement to improve the state of public higher education throughout the United States, putting an emphasis on the need for institutions to train Americans in the applied sciences, agriculture, and engineering. The Morrill Land-Grant Act gave federal lands to the states for the purpose of opening colleges and universities to educate farmers, scientists, and teachers. Although many such institutions were created, few were open or inviting to blacks, particularly in the South.
It would be 28 years before Senator Morrill rectified this problem. The solution came with the second Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1890, which specified that states using federal land-grant funds must either make their schools open to both blacks and whites or allocate money for segregated black colleges to serve as an alternative to white schools. Sixteen exclusively black institutions received 1890 land-grant funds.
HBCUs have played an historical role in enhancing equal educational opportunities for all students. HBCUs are leading institutions in awarding baccalaureate degrees to black students in the life sciences, physical sciences mathematics, and engineering. HBCUs continue to rank high in terms of the proportion of graduates who pursue and complete graduate and professional training. Fifty percent of black faculty in traditionally white research universities received their bachelor’s degrees at an HBCU. HBCUs continue to be a vital resource in the nation’s educational system. HBCUs are not only an important part of America’s history, but also an important part of America’s future.