– Critics have called them a race-based anachronism. Others have said worse: They’re inferior, they’re in need of a new mission, or they should be managed by for-profit entities. Yet, the data show that historically Black colleges and universities [HBCUs] contribute significantly to the Black middle class and the nation’s economy, and in spite of fewer resources, graduate impressive numbers of majors in education and in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM]. Although most have a majority Black student body, the faculty at many HBCUs is strikingly diverse, sometimes more than 50% non-Black. Moreover, these institutions have never discriminated on the basis of race.
But, in an age of increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S., do we still need HBCUs?
Chancellor Charlie Nelms of North Carolina Central University in Durham says yes. “HBCUs provide a culturally affirming, psychologically supportive environment. Students don’t have to prove they belong here.” NCCU provides its students “intentional, intrusive, focused” academic assistance, says Nelms.
HBCUs represent about 3% of colleges in the U.S. but enroll 12% of all Black college students and produce 23% of all Black college graduates. Remarkably, this small group of colleges confers 40% of all STEM degrees and 60% of all engineering degrees earned by Black students. They also educate half of the country’s Black teachers and 40% of all Black health professionals. And they do this with much less funding support than that of traditionally White institutions.