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What Are HBCU Colleges? Is One Right for You?

Posted by Justin Berkman | Sep 1, 2019 3:30:00 PM

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HBCUs, meaning historically black colleges and universities, have existed since Cheyney University in Pennsylvania was founded in 1837. Many well-known scholars, entrepreneurs, and entertainers have graduated from HBCUs, including Toni Morrison, Sean Combs, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., Taraji P. Henson, and Oprah Winfrey.

Are you considering attending an HBCU? We'll go over what HBCU's are, pros and cons of attending, and list some important facts about the schools. 

What Is a Historically Black College and University?

A historically black college and university is defined in Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965 as a school of higher learning that was accredited and established before 1964 and whose principal mission was the education of African-Americans.

Today, HBCUs enroll mostly African-American students, but a full quarter of HBCUs across the US have at least a 20% non-Black student body.


HBCU Facts

  • There are public, private, and religious HBCUs.
  • There are 2-year and 4-year HBCUs.
  • HBCUs have ⅛ the size of endowments of predominantly white institutions.
  • More than 75% of students at HBCUs are awarded Pell Grants.
  • HBCUs are responsible for 22% of bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-Americans.
  • According to the Network Journal, 40% of black members of Congress, 40% of black engineers, and 80% of black judges graduated from HBCUs.


Pros and Cons of Attending an HBCU College

Tarica Chambliss, a Stanford grad, weighs in below on some pros and cons of attending an HBCU.

Tarica is uniquely qualified to advise students about the merits of an HBCU education because she attended both an HBCU and a PWI (predominantly white institution) during her undergraduate years. She graduated from Stanford and spent three years there, but she spent her junior year at HBCU Howard University in Washington DC. She also attended law school at Howard.

Here are Tarica's opinions about the benefits and drawbacks of attending an HBCU.


Benefits of HBCU Colleges

Let's start with the pros of an HBCU college education.


Lower Tuition

The average tuition at an HBCU tends to be lower than tuition at many PWIs. At a PWI with larger resources, you may be more likely to receive a scholarship to help out with (or even fully cover) your tuition. But if you don't receive a scholarship, going to an HBCU may be a good idea because the overall tuition cost is likely to be significantly lower. This will help you exit college with lower debt.


Nurturing Professors

Oftentimes at HBCUs the professors may be more accessible and more invested in your future than is the case at other schools. Studies have shown that when it comes to more technical majors and programs (ie. the sciences, pre-med programs, or engineering), students have a higher chance of sticking with these majors at HBCUs than they do at other colleges. This is perhaps because daily they see examples of African-Americans who have successfully completed these rigorous programs and end up having more opportunities for mentorship. In fact, many have advised that African-American students who are interested in science or other technical programs should at least get their undergraduate degrees from HBCUs because they will be more likely to actually become doctors or engineers if they have that foundation.


Not Being Called On to Be a Representative

At an HBCU, you're not the minority in your classes, so you're not called upon to represent the minority perspective. Whereas at PWIs, if an issue that is thought to disproportionately affect African-Americans comes up in class, you are often called upon to serve as the “expert” or to give the "African-American perspective." This can at times become annoying (you're there to learn, not teach), so it's nice to be in class at an HBCU where these types of issues do not come up because many of the students already share your experience.



And now for the negative aspects of attending an HBCU.


Fewer Financial Resources

The difference in resources between an HBCU and other schools can at times be stark. HBCUs have smaller endowments and less monetary alumni support to draw from so their resources are often not as robust as those of PWIs. This often results in the facilities not being as modern or sophisticated as those of many PWIs.


Administrative Challenges

Generally, the administration at HBCUs is notoriously inefficient. I definitely ended up waiting in much longer lines at my HBCU than I did at my PWI and often ended up waiting longer for checks to be disbursed. Again, this may be due to differences in resources (which naturally lead to staffing differences), but it was extremely stressful at times.


Less Camaraderie

At HBCUs, there can be less unity among the African-American students because the majority of students are African-American. At a PWI, the African-American students tend to band together and have more of a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. At my PWI, almost all of the African-American students knew each other (and to this day I am still friends with many of them). Most PWIs have a Black Student Union or other groups aimed at fostering unity and sense of family among African-American students. These groups are not as prominent at HBCUs because obviously the schools are predominantly African-American.



More Pro's and Cons of An HBCU College Education

A common criticism of HBCUs is that they lack diversity. While most HBCUs are predominantly African-American, there are students from every different socioeconomic class, geographic region, and from many different countries. Keep in mind, though, that the level of diversity is different for each HBCU. Remember that not all HBCUs are the same.

Employers and graduate school representatives tend to recruit from HBCUs in an effort to increase diversity in their companies and in higher education.

Finally, many African-American students feel increased confidence and pride in their African-American identities by being around so many African-American college students and by being in classes that more often incorporate the African-American experience.



The Complete List of Historically Black Colleges

For this list, I only included accredited 4-year colleges. Most of these schools are in the South, but there are HBCU colleges in 20 states, Washington DC, and the Virgin Islands.

Public universities are in bold. The acceptance rates and percentage of African-American students were reported by the schools for the previous academic year.


School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Alabama A & M University 51% 95%
Alabama State University 54% 92%
Concordia College-Selma 100% Not Reported
Miles College 26% Not Reported
Oakwood University 47% 85%
Selma University 100% Not Reported
Stillman College 48% 93%
Talladega College 51% 89%
Tuskegee University 41% 78%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Arkansas Baptist College 100%  Not Reported
Philander Smith College  52%  Not Reported
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff  30% 93% 



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science 100% 32%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Delaware State University 41% 75%


District of Columbia

School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Howard University 30% 91%
University of the District of Columbia 93% 37%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Bethune-Cookman University 54% 89%
Edward Waters College 56% Not Reported
Florida A&M University  46% 94%
Florida Memorial University  30%  Not Reported



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Albany State University 47% 89%
Clark Atlanta University 71% 87%
Fort Valley State University 58% 94%
Morehouse College 84% 95%
Paine College 44% 91%
Savannah State University 78% 88%
Spelman College 54% 87%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Kentucky State University 48% 58%
Simmons College of Kentucky Not Reported Not Reported



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Dillard University 41% Not Reported
Grambling State University 44% 91%
Southern University and A&M College 57% 93%
Southern University at New Orleans 79% Not Reported
Xavier University of Louisiana 66% 70%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Bowie State University 54% 87%
Coppin State University 54% 85%
Morgan State University 40% 85%
University of Maryland, Eastern Shore 61% 74%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Alcorn State University 78% 94%
Jackson State University 69% 92%
Mississippi Valley State University 16% 91%
Rust College 39% 96%
Tougaloo College 99% 97%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Harris-Stowe State University 100% 83%
Lincoln University of Missouri 54% 49%


North Carolina

School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Barber-Scotia College Not Reported Not Reported
Bennett College 92% Not Reported
Elizabeth City State University 52% 75%
Fayetteville State University 50% 66%
Johnson C. Smith University 42% 80%
Livingstone College 64% 88%
North Carolina A&T State University 58% 81%
North Carolina Central University 43% 83%
St. Augustine's University 74% 95%
Shaw University 59% 71%
Winston-Salem State University 60% 72%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Central State University 38% 95%
Wilberforce University 38% 95%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Langston University 46% 89%


School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania 85% 86%
Lincoln University 27% 81%

South Carolina

School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Allen University 72% 99%
Benedict College 75% 99%
Claflin University 44% 92%
Morris College 62% 98%
South Carolina State University 85% 95%
Voorhees College 50% 98%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
American Baptist College 51% 97%
Fisk University 20% 87%
Lane College 43% 100%
LeMoyne-Owen College 49% 99%
Tennessee State University 52% 72%



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Huston-Tillotson University 46% 70%
Jarvis Christian College 42% 84%
Paul Quinn College 90% 85%
Prairie View A&M University 39% 85%
Southwestern Christian College Not Reported 82%
Texas College 34% 85%
Texas Southern University 51% 82%
Wiley College  100% Not Reported 



School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Hampton University 29% 94%
Norfolk State University 67% 83%
Virginia State University 80% 85%
Virginia Union University 24% 96%
Virginia University of Lynchburg 100% Not Reported


West Virginia

School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
Bluefield State College 38% 10%
West Virginia State University 41% 12%


Virgin Islands

School Acceptance Rate % of African-Americans
University of the Virgin Islands 97% 72%
University of the Virgin Islands-Kingshill Not Reported Not Reported




How Should You Use This List?

If you’re considering attending an HBCU, you should research the colleges that interest you on the list to determine if they’re schools you should apply to or attend. There are many factors to consider to determine if a college is a good fit for you including location, selectivity, support services, and the majors offered.

Look at the school’s website, and use guidebooks, college finders, and search websites to help you in the college selection process. If possible, consult with teachers, counselors, parents, current students, and alumni.

To get a general idea of the reputations of different HBCUs, you can check out their US News HBCU rankings. Also, Big Future allows  you to search for HBCUs and other qualities you’re looking for in a college. Keep in mind that like other college rankings, HCBU rankings are inexact and should be used as a way to gather more info about the school. 

Finally, you can attend an HBCU college fair or tour to learn more about specific HBCUs. 


What's Next?

If you're worried about college costs, read about how to pay for college and applying for financial aid

Before you finalize your list of schools that you're going to apply to, make sure you know about target schools, reach schools, and safety schools. 


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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.

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