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October 5, 2021

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Rising from a historic environment of legal segregation, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were established prior to 1964 with the intention of offering accredited, high-quality education to African American students across the United States. These schools do, however, admit students of all races. Students can choose from about 100 HBCUs across America, including public and private schools, two-year and four-year schools, and professional schools.

Best Historically Black Colleges and Universities:

  1. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University - Tallahassee, FL
  2. North Carolina A & T State University - Greensboro, NC
  3. Bowie State University - Bowie, MD
  4. Howard University - Washington, DC
  5. Delaware State University - Dover, DE
  6. Winston-Salem State University - Winston-Salem, NC
  7. Fayetteville State University - Fayetteville, NC
  8. Oakwood University - Huntsville, AL
  9. North Carolina Central University - Durham, NC
  10. Spelman College - Atlanta, GA

The best historically Black colleges were determined by considering each school's academic standards, affordability, outcomes, and student support. The following school profiles explore the legacies, present successes and ongoing initiatives of each institution.

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What Are the Best Historically Black Colleges?

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University View School Profile Tallahassee, FL

FAMU was founded as the State Normal College for Colored Students in 1887, and began classes with 15 students and two instructors. The university enrolls nearly 10,000 students from more than 70 countries, including several African and Caribbean nations. FAMU is the largest among historically black colleges and universities in the state of Florida.

The university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees through its School of Agriculture and Food Sciences. Fields of study include agribusiness, plant science, entomology and soil and water. FAMU also offers 10 bachelor's degree teaching concentrations through its College of Education, and 13 specialized graduate degree programs through its College of Engineering.

According to the university's 2010-20 Strategic Plan, FAMU strives to 'become a top producer' of African American graduates with degrees in law, health and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and to maintain a diverse and inclusive campus atmosphere. FAMU has launched numerous programs to build economic growth and partnerships in Florida, such as the Sustainability Institute and the Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research.

Photo: Ebyabe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

North Carolina A & T State University View School Profile Greensboro, NC

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University was established in 1891 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race, a land-grant learning institution reserved for African American students. The university is the largest among all agriculture-based HBCU colleges, and produces the second-largest number of agricultural graduates that belong to minority groups.

North Carolina A&T was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation's Engineering Research Center in 2008, and the university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in seven specialized engineering fields. Graduate students attending the university may also pursue graduate degrees in six different concentration areas through the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. Additionally, the university offers degrees in four areas of agriculture and environmental science.

Alumni of North Carolina A&T include several notable figures of the Civil Rights Era, including the Greensboro Four, who staged the country's first sit-in, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. According to the most recent data, nearly 80% of the students at North Carolina A&T are African-American.

Photo: Bw2217a / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Bowie State University View School Profile Bowie, MD

Originally founded in the 1860s as a baptist church offering free teaching classes and later named the Baltimore Normal School for Colored Teachers, Bowie State University is the oldest HBCU in the state of Maryland and among the 10 HBCUs oldest in the country. In 1995 the university received an $27 million grant from NASA and the National Science Foundation, becoming one of six schools recognized as a 'Model Institution for Excellence in STEM.' Since then, Bowie State has been considered a leading producer of African American graduates with degrees in STEM fields.

Students seeking a STEM-centered education can choose from degrees in fields like computer science, mathematics, military science and biology. Bowie State also continues its tradition of teacher education by offering a total of eight undergraduate and graduate education degree programs, as well as pathways in educational leadership and school counseling.

Bowie State enrolled roughly 6,100 students in Fall 2017, and 82% of the student body is African American. The university also boasts a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio of 17.5-to-1.

Photo: Acutair1 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Howard University View School Profile Washington, DC

Howard University was founded in 1867 by Civil War general Oliver O. Howard, and today the DC-based institution consists of 13 schools and colleges. This HBCU's impressive alumni list includes notable African Americans like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and political writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.

More than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available at Howard. The university's College of Medicine is today recognized as a leading institution doctors and healthcare workers that work with underserved populations, as well as a premier training site for female surgeons. The Howard University School of Law is also considered a major producer of public service graduates.

Howard currently enrolls more than 10,000 students from all 50 states and nearly 70 countries across the globe. Additionally, Howard is home to the first African American-owned television station in the U.S., and established Omega Psi Phi and Phi Beta Sigma, two of the country's most prominent African American fraternities.

Delaware State University View School Profile Dover, DE

Originally founded as the Delaware School for Colored Students in 1891, this HBCU institution currently enrolls 4,600 students and has a student-to-faculty ratio of 16-to-1. In addition to the main Dover campus, DSU operates satellite campuses in two other Delaware cities, Georgetown and Wilmington.

The university's most popular major fields of study include accounting, mass communications, movement science, management and psychology. Additionally, the university offers a unique Africana Studies minor that includes coursework in African American history, literature and politics. The school features a total of 19 program departments and six academic colleges. DSU is also home to the Center for Integrated Biological and Environmental Research (CIBER), where researchers from DSU and three other Delaware schools participate in collaborative, interdisciplinary projects.

DSU is considered a top school for Dreamers, or undocumented immigrant students, who have received educational assistance from the Opportunity Scholarship Program. The university enrolls nearly 50 Opportunity Scholarship students, and was one of two schools nationwide to accept applications from these scholarship recipients.

Photo: Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Winston-Salem State University View School Profile Winston-Salem, NC

Founded in 1892 as a teaching academy for African Americans, Winston-Salem State University leads all UNC constituent schools for graduate job placement and average salary for graduates in the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina. Additionally, WSSU is the largest producer of black graduates in the fields of nursing, health professions and education.

WSSU offers more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degree and certification programs. Most of these pathways are concentrated in the university's College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education. The WSSU School of Health Sciences also offers programs in fields like clinical laboratory science, exercise physiology and health management, as well as nursing. WSSU is the only HBCU to offer a bachelor's degree in the field of motorsport management, as well.

Of this HBCU's 5,000 students, roughly half are first-generation college learners. Students who choose to live on-campus can choose from seven themed residences, including Women in Science and Health, Women Involved in Leadership Development and Live to Serve.

Fayetteville State University View School Profile Fayetteville, NC

Originally part of the Howard School proposed by the Freedmen's Bureau, this North Carolina HBCU opened its doors in 1877 as the first state-sponsored teaching college for African American educators. Fayetteville State is the top producer of African American graduates in the state of North Carolina, though 25% of the university's diverse student body identify as non-African American.

Undergraduates at Fayetteville State may earn bachelor's degrees in 12 different fields through the school's College of Arts and Sciences, including criminal justice, biology, psychology and social work. The university's College of Education offers degrees in elementary, middle and high school education, as well as educational leadership and specialized teaching subjects. Additional learning pathways are available through the College of Business and Economics, including an MBA track.

Fayetteville State enrolls roughly 6,300 students each year, and has a student-to-faculty ratio of 19-to-1. The university has a history of supporting students in the military, and today offers online programs tailored to military personnel in fields like sociology, fire science and business administration.

Oakwood University View School Profile Huntsville, AL

Established by Seventh-Day Adventists in 1896 to provide educational opportunities for freed slaves, Oakwood University is headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama. The university was accredited as a junior college in 1943, and 15 years later received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) as a provider of associate and bachelor's degrees.

Undergraduates can choose from 58 degree pathways, including faith-based fields like pastoral care and pre-chaplaincy, ministerial theology and religious education. The university also offers an extensive number of bachelor's programs grounded in STEM and healthcare fields. Three graduate degree pathways are also available, as well as five degrees and certificates offered through the LEAP Adult Degree Completion Program.

North Carolina Central University View School Profile Durham, NC

Established in 1910 as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race, this Durham-based HBCU was the first state-supported liberal arts school for African American students. NCCU is currently home to 13 research institutes that explore areas like homeland security and workforce development, juvenile justice and minority issues.

The most popular areas of study for undergraduates at NCCU include criminal justice, family and consumer science and business administration, while the most popular fields for grad students include law, library science and public administration. The university also offers two dual-degree pathways for students that allow them to earn a bachelor's in physics from NCCU and an engineering bachelor's from North Carolina State University. Several joint degrees are also offered at the graduate level, including business administration/information science, law/library science and law/public administration.

Of the university's 8,000 enrolled students, 78% are African American and 12% are white. NCCU boasts a freshman-to-sophomore retention rate of 82%, and a student-to-faculty ratio of 15-to-1.

Spelman College View School Profile Atlanta, GA

Founded in 1881 and based in Atlanta, Spelman College holds the distinguished title as the oldest private liberal arts college for women to receive HBCU status. The college also boasts a graduation rate of 76%, highest among all historically black colleges and universities, and an acceptance rate of 41%, making it one of the most selective women's colleges in the country.

Spelman College offers more than 30 major fields of study, including nine humanities and language pathways in fields like dance, documentary filmmaking and photography. The college is also home to a collaborative curatorial studies program designed to address the underrepresentation of African Americans in museum-oriented occupations. Spelman students can also opt to minor in African Diaspora Studies, which explore history and culture of African people through a gender-informed perspective.

From 2012 to 2015, Spelman College recorded student retention rates of 88% to 91%, topping the average rates for both HBCUs and liberal arts colleges nationwide. Additionally, students pursuing teacher certification recorded state licensing exam passing rate of 100% for three consecutive academic years.

Tougaloo College View School Profile Tougaloo, MS

Established by missionaries in 1869 as a learning institution for freed slaves and their descendants, Tougaloo College stands on a former slave plantation in the eastern Mississippi city that shares its name. In 1961, a student group dubbed the Tougaloo Nine -- led by civil rights activist Medgar Evers -- staged a series of sit-ins at segregated facilities throughout the state.

Undergraduate and graduate degree programs at Tougaloo are available in four core subject areas: education, the humanities, natural science and social science. The college also offers adult education, continuing education courses, certifications and other programs through its Division of Continuing Education. Additionally, students pursuing careers in fields like epidemiology or cardiovascular health may participate in the Jackson Heart Program, a collaborative initiative between Tougaloo, Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. This program is designed to boost African American and minority student training in the field of medical research.

Southern University at New Orleans View School Profile New Orleans, LA

Southern University at New Orleans was founded as a branch unit of Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College in Baton Rouge by ACT 28 of the Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature on September 4, 1956.

On September 21, 1959, SUNO opened its doors on a 17-acre site located in Pontchartrain Park, a subdivision of primarily African-American, single-family residences in eastern New Orleans. The first class included 158 freshmen, one building, and a faculty of 15. The University offered 10 courses in four academic disciplines: humanities, science, social science and commerce.

Most of SUNO's degree programs are in the arts and sciences, this includes African-American studies, addictive behaviors counseling and prevention, forensic science, and museum studies. Other areas of study include business administration, public administration, criminal justice, computer information systems, early childhood and educational studies, child development and family studies, and social work.

In 2005, the university was extensively damaged during Hurricane Katrina, and students were forced to relocate to the SUBR campus until the winter of 2006. With enrollment climbing faster than any other four-year institution, SUNO experienced unprecedented growth. The University recently completed construction of its Millie M. Charles School of Social Work; two other buildings are being constructed, with a third expected to break ground later this year. Roughly 2,420 students are enrolled at the university.

Tennessee State University View School Profile Nashville, TN

Established as the Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State Normal School for Negroes in 1912, this Nashville-based institution is currently the only state-funded HBCU in Tennessee. From 2014 to 2016, TSU graduated more than 2,000 low-income African American students who were eligible for Pell Grants.

The most common areas of study for TCU students include health, STEM fields and education. The university also offers an extensive selection of undergraduate and graduate degrees in agriculture and consumer sciences, including fields like agribusiness, food marketing and supply chain management, plant and soil science and agricultural education. Degrees in seven specialized engineering fields are offered, as well.

TCU currently enrolls more than 8,700 students, more than three-quarters of whom are undergraduates. The university is also home to more than 100 student clubs and organizations, as well as an African Street Festival held annually on-campus.

Florida Memorial University View School Profile Miami Gardens, FL

Established by Baptists in 1879 and located in the city of Miami Gardens, Florida Memorial University ranks second in the state of Florida and ninth nationwide for graduation rates among African American teachers. It is currently the only HBCU with a campus in South Florida.

Florida Memorial offers a wide range of STEM-related degree programs for undergraduates. These include bachelor's pathways in aeronautical management and aviation science, as well as other cutting-edge fields like cybersecurity and information systems. Dual-degree pathways for biology-nursing and physics-engineering are offered in cooperation with other Florida institutions. Other options include a dual-degree in business administration and five specialized teaching pathways. Graduate students may pursue MBA or Master of Education degrees, as well.

As part of its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, Florida Memorial plans to increase the number of online programs to 100 and boost six-year graduation rates to 46%. The university reported an undergraduate job placement rate of 76% in 2013-14, and also plans for this figure to reach 86% by 2019-20.

Jackson State University View School Profile Jackson, MS

Founded by the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1877, Jackson State University is an HBCU member of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and has been named a high research activity university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The campus is today home to the Margaret Walker Center, a museum that showcases exhibitions related to African American culture and history. In Fall 2016, more than 90% of Jackson State's students were African American and 65% were female.

More than 20% of students at the university earn degrees through the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. Areas of study for these students include atmospheric and science education, industrial and systems technology, aerospace science and computer science. The university also offers the Call Me MISTER program, which aims to increase the number of African American male teachers in the nation's K-8 classrooms. Nearly 100 students are enrolled in the Call Me MISTER program.

Albany State University View School Profile Albany, GA

Established in 1903 by Joseph Holley, the son of freed slaves, Albany State University is today the largest of three HBCU colleges in the University System of Georgia. The university also played a key role in Civil Rights history when several students helped form the Albany Movement, a group of nearly 1,000 desegregation activists that led protests throughout the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. later became involved with the movement, as well.

More than 20 health professions programs are available, including multiple degree and certification pathways in fields like emergency medical services and nursing. The university also offers bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, mass communication, political science, social work and seven business-oriented fields. Albany State also offers seven master's degree in education programs, as well as MBA, MPA, MSW and MSN tracks. Many of these degree and certificate programs are offered online.

The university enrolled 6,615 total students in Fall 2017. Nearly 70% of these enrollees are African American, and roughly 22% are white. Additionally, more than 70% are female students.

Xavier University of Louisiana View School Profile New Orleans, LA

Located in the Gert Town area of New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana is the only HBCU with Roman Catholic affiliation. In 1961, the university's president made news when he opened up campus dormitories to Civil Rights protesters arriving from out of town that had been refused accommodations elsewhere in the city. The university closed briefly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and President Obama delivered a keynote speech at the school to commemorate the disaster's fifth anniversary. Nearly 70% of the school's students are African American, and more than one-quarter identify as Catholic.

Xavier offers more than 60 bachelor's degree programs, including nine specialized education pathways for teachers and several dual-degree programs for STEM majors. Interdisciplinary minors are also available in fields like African American and diaspora studies, professional writing and women's studies. The university is also home to a College of Pharmacy created to correct racial disparities in the pharmacy industry. Pre-pharmacy bachelor's and Doctor of Pharmacy programs are available.

Claflin University View School Profile Orangeburg, SC

Northern missionaries established Claflin University to provide education for freed slaves and their families, and the university served as a primary academic center for black students after they were barred from attending the nearby University of South Carolina. Gloria Blackwell, a notable Civil Rights activist, earned her bachelor's degree at Claflin in the 1950s.

Most bachelor's programs at Claflin are available through the department of arts and humanities. These include degrees in fields like African and African American studies, creative writing, digital design, gender studies and studio art. Degrees in business, education and STEM fields are also available to undergraduates, while graduate students can choose from three master's pathways: MBA, curriculum and instruction or biotechnology.

According to the latest data, 92% of Claflin students identify as black or African American. The college is relatively small for an HBCU, with a total enrollment of fewer than 2,000 students.

Elizabeth City State University View School Profile Elizabeth City, NC

Founded in 1891 as a teaching academy for African American students, Elizabeth City State University is a member of the University of North Carolina system. Anthony Ray, a writer and author who graduated from the university in 1977, went on to launch the HBCU Nation Radio Show.

The school's STEM-related options for undergraduates include a bachelor's in aviation science with four concentration areas, as well as degrees in engineering technology, computer networking and cybersecurity technology, biology, chemistry and pharmaceutical science. A 2+2 teacher preparation partnership program is also available for incoming community college students. The university also offers master's degrees in biology, mathematics, elementary education and school administration.

Fewer than 1,400 students are currently enrolled at the university, the vast majority of whom are full-time undergraduates, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 13-to-1. More than 60% of the student body identify as black.

Hampton University View School Profile Hampton, VA

This Virginia-based HBCU was founded in 1868 to educate freed slaves, and the school later spearheaded an education program for Native Americans. Hampton University is home to the Emancipation Oak, which served as the 'first classroom' for students and stands to this day, as well as the Skin of Color Research Institute, where researchers study skin disorders that disproportionately affect people of color.

Hampton is a premier destination for students pursuing education degrees. Students may choose from 16 bachelor's and master's education degree options, including a health, physical education and recreation pathway with five possible concentrations. STEM-oriented programs include bachelor's degrees in aviation computer science, chemical and electrical engineering, biotechnology and marine and environmental science, as well as graduate degrees in physics with atmospheric, medical, nuclear, optical and plasma specializations.

Hampton enrolls roughly 4,600 students, most of whom are undergraduates. Nearly 92% of students identify as black, and more than two-thirds of the student body are women.

Savannah State University View School Profile Savannah, GA

Established in 1890, Savannah State University is the oldest HBCU in the state of Georgia. The university was also the first in the city of Savannah to earn accreditation from the National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

The five most popular majors at Savannah State are biology, mass communications, business management, criminal justice and social work. Savannah State pioneered studies in emergency management and homeland security, becoming the first school in Georgia to offer bachelor's degrees in this field, and this program is still available. Other undergraduate degrees in liberal arts and sciences include Africana studies, print and online journalism and behavior analysis. A total of 15 undergraduate and graduate STEM degrees are available, as well.

Savannah State enrolls nearly 5,000 students, 83% of whom are full-time undergraduates. Roughly 84% of the student body identifies as black or African American, and another 6% identify as Hispanic.

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff View School Profile Pine Bluff, AR

Founded as the Branch Normal College in 1873, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is the oldest HBCU -- and second-oldest postsecondary institution of any kind -- in the state of Arkansas. The school has been part of the University of Arkansas system since 1972.

UA Pine Bluff offers the only comprehensive aquaculture program in Arkansas. Bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. in aquaculture and fisheries programs are all currently available. Two other majors -- agriculture and human sciences -- are offered through this department as well. The university's options for education majors are also extensive, including 15 specialized pathways for undergraduates and master's degrees in four areas.

Black students represent more than 90% of the student body at UA Pine Bluff, as well as 85% of undergraduate and graduate degree recipients. The university's faculty is relatively diverse. While more than half of the faculty identify as African American, 23% are Asian American and another 23% are white.

Prairie View A & M University View School Profile Prairie View, TX

Conceived by former slaves and established in 1876, Prairie View A&M holds distinction as the second-oldest degree-granting institution in the state of Texas, as well as the state's first state-supported HBCU. Inez Prosser, a 1913 alumnus, went on to become the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in psychology.

Home of the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering, Prairie View A&M offers a total of 13 undergraduate and graduate degrees in six engineering fields. Graduate students pursuing education degrees can also choose from multiple tracks in curriculum and instruction, special education, physical education and educational administration. Another notable institution at the university is the College of Juvenile Justice in Psychology, which features bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs that bridge these two fields. The university also boasts a 100% licensure passing rate for graduates of its nursing programs.

Roughly 8,250 students are enrolled at Prairie View A&M, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 18-to-1. More than half of the university's undergraduates live on-campus.

Bluefield State College View School Profile Bluefield, WV

Established as the Bluefield Colored Institute in 1895, Bluefield State College is the newest and smallest of West Virginia's two historically black colleges and universities. The college was a hub of African American culture during the 1930s and 1940s, hosting guests such as poet Langston Hughes, boxer Joe Louis and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. The school's 2013-18 Master Plan includes initiatives to increase the number of college graduates in the state of West Virginia in order to address a projected shortfall of degree-holding employees in 2018.

Bluefield State College offers an extensive number of undergraduate degree programs in STEM and healthcare fields. Bachelor's degree options include imaging science with concentrations in nuclear medicine, sonography or computed typography, as well as four engineering fields and an RN-to-BSN pathway for nurses. Associate degrees in engineering, nursing and radiologic technology are also available. Bluefield State College does not offer graduate degrees at this time.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore View School Profile Princess Anne, MD

University of Maryland Eastern Shore opened its doors in 1886 as a preparatory academy for biblical studies, and the inaugural class featured one teacher and nine students. The HBCU transferred to state control in 1936, and is today the only degree-granting institution on the Maryland shore that offers degree programs in computer science. UM Eastern Shore is also home to the African Journal of Criminology & Justice Studies, with an online archive dating back to 2005.

In addition to the computer science pathway, the university offers several degree programs, including aviation science, engineering and human ecology tracks with multiple concentration options. Another specialized pathway, the PGA Golf Management program, prepares students for a career in the golf industry through coursework, internships and a Playing Ability Test (PAT). Many graduate programs are also grounded in specialized fields, including master's and doctoral degrees in food and agricultural sciences, marine-estuarine-environmental sciences and toxicology.

Fort Valley State University View School Profile Fort Valley, GA

Fort Valley State University was formed in 1939 with the consolidation of two other Georgia institutions, the Fort Valley High and Industrial School and the Agricultural College of Forsyth. Notable alumni of this HBCU include Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, a Civil Rights figure who played a central role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Barbara B. Williams, who went on to become Fort Valley's first African American female mayor.

FVSU is a leading producer in the state of Georgia for African American degree-holders in several fields of study, including mathematics and statistics, agriculture and agriculture operations, family and consumer sciences and engineering. The university is also home to Georgia's only four-year veterinary technology program, and boasts a 100% state licensing exam passing rate among education majors. A total of 37 on-campus undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered, as well as five online pathways.

Tuskegee University View School Profile Tuskegee, AL

This Alabama HBCU was founded as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers in 1881. The school's first principal, Booker T. Washington, was a major pioneer in early African American education. Tuskegee University also played a significant role in scientific history when botanist George Washington Carver, a Tuskegee professor, conducted groundbreaking research in areas like soil conservation and alternative crop growth. Additionally, the university served as a training center for the Tuskegee Airmen, a famed group of African American fighter pilots who served in WWII. Today, Tuskegee is the only university in the country to be designated as a national historic site by the National Park Service.

Tuskegee continues Carver's work through degree programs in agricultural, environmental, food and nutritional sciences. The school's baccalaureate nursing program was the first of its kind in Alabama, and is among the oldest in the U.S. Other academic pathways include degrees in veterinary medicine, architecture and construction management and five engineering fields.

Coppin State University View School Profile Baltimore, MD

Founded in 1900 as the Colored High School, this Baltimore HBCU began as a teaching academy for African American students. In an effort to address educational disparities among young people in the Baltimore community, Coppin State took over a nearby public elementary school, becoming the first and, to this day, only postsecondary institution in Maryland to do so. One of the school's alumni, Stephanie Ready, was first woman to serve as head coach of an NBA team.

Coppin State remains a leading destination for education majors. In addition to four undergraduate degree and certificate education programs, the university offers master's degrees in adult and continuing education, contemporary educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, special education and teaching.

Norfolk State University View School Profile Norfolk, VA

Norfolk State University was founded in 1935 as a branch unit of Virginia State University, and later served as a polytechnic college before attaining university status in 1979. The university is home to houses representing all nine Pan-Hellenic, traditionally African American fraternities and sororities. It is also one of the first historically black colleges and universities to earn accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Norfolk State's current enrollment is roughly 6,200 students, 65% of whom are female.

Norfolk State University offers a total of 31 undergraduate degree programs. Many of these programs are concentrated in social sciences like history, political science, sociology, media and communications and social work. An African and Africa Diaspora certificate is available, as well. Graduate students can choose from eight master's in education pathways, including a urban education and three special education specializations, as well as cutting-edge STEM fields like cybersecurity, electronics engineering and materials science.

Morgan State University View School Profile Baltimore, MD

Morgan State University was founded by Episcopalians in 1867. It held private status until 1939, when the state of Maryland purchased the university in order to create more educational opportunities for African Americans. Morgan State is currently the largest HBCU in the state of Maryland. The university enrolls roughly 7,700 students, 35% of whom hail from out of state.

The university is a popular destination for aspiring architects and planners. Options for students in these fields include bachelor's degrees in architecture and environmental design and construction management, as well as accelerated master's programs in city and regional planning, landscape architecture and general architecture. The university also offers several online programs, including MPH and MBA pathways.

The university is home to the Morgan Mile, an initiative designed to boost community outreach through public health and safety, youth education and development, entrepreneurship and economic development. The campus also hosts the Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory (PEARL), which has conducted groundbreaking research since its induction in 1967.

What Is a Historically Black College or University?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the term 'historically Black college or university,' or HBCU for short, has been in use since the Higher Education Act was amended in 1965. HBCU refers to any accredited institution established prior to 1965 "whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans." However, HBCUs are committed to educating all students regardless of their race.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 102 HBCUs in the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2016. The first HBCUs were established in the 1830s, more than two decades before slavery was abolished in the U.S. The number of HBCUs has decreased since the 1930s, but has remained fairly steady since the 1980s. In 2016, the combined enrollment for all HBCUs was 292,000. HBCUs are fairly small compared to other colleges and universities, and more than half enroll 2,500 or fewer students.

Black student enrollment at HBCUs has declined since 1980, due in part to factors like desegregation, improved access to financial aid and higher salaries among African Americans. In 1980, 17% of Black students were enrolled at an HBCU, but this figure decreased to 9% by 2015. However, HBCUs still represent 15% of all bachelor's degrees conferred to Black students in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.

Percentage of Total Enrollment by Ethnicity of U.S. Residents
White Black Hispanic Asian/Pacific
American Indian
Alaska Native
1980 83.5% 9.4% 4% 2.4% 0.7%
1990 79.9% 9.3% 5.8% 4.3% 0.8%
2000 70.8% 11.7% 9.9% 6.6% 1%
2005 68% 13.1% 11.1% 6.7% 1%
2009 64.5% 14.7% 12.9% 6.8% 1%
2010 62.6% 15% 13.5% 6.3% 1%
2011 61.2% 15.2% 14.3% 6.3% 0.9%
2012 60.3% 14.9% 15% 6.3% 0.9%
2013 59.3% 14.7% 15.8% 6.4% 0.8%
2014 58.3% 14.5% 16.5% 6.6% 0.8%
2015 57.6% 14.1% 17.4% 6.8% 0.8%
2016 56.9% 13.7% 18.2% 6.9% 0.8%

Source: NCES

How to Choose a Historically Black College

As with selecting any college or university, choosing the right HBCU requires extensive research. Students should peruse the list of current HBCUs and identify institutions that award degrees in their desired career field.

Once they have a list of possible schools, students should compare their top picks based on factors like location, school and class size and overall cost (see bullets below). Additionally, students should research 'student outcome' data for each of their selected HBCUs. Student outcomes include retention rates, or the number of students that return after each academic year, as well as graduation and graduate employment rates. Another important outcome is 'debt default,' which measures the number of students that are forced to default on their student loan payments after they have graduated (often because they are unable to find work).

It's important to note that HBCUs are open to students of all races. As fewer Black students have enrolled at HBCUs since 1980, these institutions have experienced an uptick in the number of non-Black students. The Pew Research Center notes that, in 2015, white, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American students represented 17% of students enrolled at HBCUs. In particular, the number of Hispanic students has risen by a considerable margin over the last four decades. Hispanics represented 1.8% of students enrolled at HBCUs in 1980, and this figure rose to 4.6% in 2015.


School location may impact education costs for HBCU students, particularly 'out-of-state' students, who usually pay higher tuition rates than 'in-state' students. Becoming an in-state student typically requires at least one year of established residency in the state where the college or university is located. In addition to traditional brick-and-mortar campuses, many HBCUs offer online courses and degree programs that students can access anywhere in the country. Online students often pay a flat tuition rate, regardless of their state of residence.

School Size and Type

The largest HBCUs enroll between 12,000 and 7,500 new students each year, but more than half of all HBCUs have an overall enrollment of 2,500 or fewer students. Public universities tend to have higher enrollment numbers and larger campuses, and their student-to-faculty ratios tend to be less favorable. In contrast, private colleges typically have lower enrollment numbers, smaller campuses and more favorable student-to-faculty ratios.

Degree Program Availability

HBCUs are considered especially suitable for students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. According to the United Negro College Fund, in 2013, HBCUs conferred 25% of STEM bachelor's degrees to African American students nationwide. However, due to the diverse selection of HBCUs, students should be able to pinpoint several institutions with degree programs that reflect their career aspirations. Some HBCUs offer specialization or concentration degree programs that allow students to focus their studies on a niche area of their career field.


The cost of attending an HBCU will depend on several factors, such as the student's state residency and whether they live on- or off-campus. All students are encouraged to complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form before they begin college. The FAFSA uses factors (such as the student's household income) to determine their eligibility for federal loans, grants and other forms of financial aid. Students must submit their FAFSA at certain times to meet rolling deadlines. Those planning to attend college during the 2019-20 academic year may submit their FAFSA between Oct. 1, 2018, and June 30, 2020. In addition, students can browse scholarship opportunities using our African American Scholarships Guide.


William Hudson, Jr., Ph.D., is a proud alumnus of the institution and also serves as a professor focusing on educating students in the areas of rehabilitation, disability, vocational training and services, community transition, and empowerment. Dr. Hudson is a specialist in the recruitment and retention of minority students and has a national presence in these arenas. He received his bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degree in counseling education from FAMU. He went on to earn a specialist degree in counseling and human services and a Ph.D. in rehabilitation counseling from Florida State University.

What are the three aspects that make attending a HBCU a unique college experience?

At HBCUs, particularly FAMU, students receive the benefit of learning with and from individuals who have diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Students also experience a family-oriented environment and have unlimited opportunities to gain hands-on, real-world experience.

What are the two most important attributes or characteristics a student should consider when selecting a HBCU experience and why?

Two of the most important areas to consider when selecting an HBCU include (1) the quality of academic programs and faculty and (2) the professional development, scholarship, and networking opportunities. At FAMU, we offer some of the highest ranked programs in the nation and a legacy of alumni who have emerged as leaders in public service, civil rights and law, entertainment, environmental science, medicine, arts, engineering, business, journalism, architecture, and more. We have also been nationally recognized for the scholarship opportunities we offer our students.

In what ways do you suggest students considering applying to a HBCU begin their research and connect with HBCU admissions and faculty?

Students should attend campus tours and recruitment events, as well as research the institution's website and social media platforms to get a better feel for its academic offerings and campus life. They should also talk to alumni and recent graduates about their experiences. At FAMU, we host preview days in the fall and spring for interested students, open our campus for college tours year-round, travel across the country to offer recruitment fairs, our alumni host informational events in their areas, and we now offer a virtual-360 interactive tour of our campus.

Why are HBCUs important in America today?

At HBCUs like FAMU, we produce leaders that bring to the table a more global approach to thinking and decision-making. HBCUs offer an open-arm approach that helps students feel comfortable and confident in who they are. The research and teaching that occurs on our campus helps provide profound solutions to some of the world's greatest issues.

Do you believe more HBCUs should offer online education programs?

At FAMU, we continue to expand our online education platform. Often students who attend HBCUs are holding down part-time and full-time jobs and online education offers them the flexibility needed to complete their degrees on time. Online education gives individuals who are already well into their careers an opportunity to return to school to further their education. We also serve the millennial generation and the internet plays a big role in their day-to-day lives, so it is imperative that they have the option to attend courses online.

How can online students benefit from taking their programs from a HBCU?

At FAMU, our online students get the same personal touch that our students on-campus receive. Their instructors are the same highly credentialed educators that lead our classrooms every day. They are getting access to the best programs and other necessary resources, just like any other student.

Along with a millennial board of directors, Illai Kenney is a co-founder and National Partnership Director of the HBCU Green Fund, Inc., a new 501C3 organization created to help finance green infrastructure and renewable energy projects at historically Black colleges and universities. Illai gained valuable experience serving as a Program Manager in the Howard University Office of Sustainability since graduation from Howard University.

Illai is an internationally recognized environmental and social justice youth activist; her first public speech was at the Million Youth Movement Rally at the age of nine and she co-founded the Georgia Kids Against Pollution when she was 12. The Brower award winner attracted global media attention for challenging Coca-Cola over water practices in India and for speaking up about poverty at the UN Summit on Sustainability in South Africa.

Illai was among the many activists gassed at the traumatic Ferguson March that underscored Black Lives Matter. She served as an organizer with Black Youth Vote to promote youth civic engagement and as a Green Ambassador with the Toyota Green Initiative and Green for All. Illai has traveled to Senegal, Ghana, Europe, and Venezuela. She volunteered with Hearts for Africa in Malawi and went to Ghana with the Morehouse College MPAGE program where she worked on sustainable development projects.

Can you tell us a little about your academic journey and the process you went through while applying to college?

I went about applying to college in what I'd consider all the wrong ways. In fact, I only applied to two schools. I knew what I wanted to study (entertainment/media and law) so I found programs that would allow me to do that. I did not enjoy the application process, but I got through it with a lot of help from my mom. In high school, my grades were pretty average, mostly because I was academically unchallenged. I graduated with a 3.0, but I scored a 1930 on my combined SAT. I believe my SAT scores helped me get admitted to Howard.

What factors lead you to choose a historically Black college and university for college?

My mom and godmother are both Howard alumna. I went to pre-K at Howard. Though I don't remember much about those days, I do remember meeting Nelson Mandela when he came to Howard. The grand nature of the school, the fact that they offered a degree in what I wanted to study, and that they offered a plethora of other majors in case I changed my mind helped me decide on Howard. The fact that Howard is a place where you can engage with elite black thinkers in any field of study was also a huge draw. Looking back, I understand that being in a space where being black wasn't different was good for me. Being on a campus where being black and exceptional were simply the starting point forced me to elevate my entire self.

What are the two most important attributes or characteristics a student should consider when selecting an HBCU experience and why?

My key questions are: where, why, and for what? Where you want to live is extremely important. If you hate city life, you probably won't like a school like Howard because it is smack dab in the middle of a big, busy city. If you're like me and don't want to live in the south, you'll love it. And being where you want is very important when you're paying to be there.

Why are you going? If you want to study agricultural sciences, then an HBCU that doesn't offer a program that gives you a robust experience is not the way to go. You must know why you're attending because the why is your purpose and will keep you focused.

Lastly, I ask for what? For what goes deeper and further than why. It looks at what your long-term goals are as well as what you need for yourself. If you aren't big on religion, then a school that is may not be a fit for you. But if religion is a cornerstone for your life, then a school that endeavors to develop their students spiritually would be right up your alley. In terms of career desire, if you know that you want to get involved in national politics, then you should attend a school that makes it easy to do so. Being in DC at Howard might be better than being in Alabama, for example.

How did attending a HBCU shape your college experience?

Attending an HBCU gave me lifelong memories and friendships. I know people in many corners of the world because of my time at Howard. Attending an HBCU made me mentally strong and it taught me to follow through until my goals are accomplished.

Why do you think HBCUs are important in America today?

HBCUs are important because black lives matter. There are few places on Earth where the black life in its entirety is enjoyed, examined, and advanced and the HBCU campus is one of them. When I co-founded the HBCU Green Fund to help HBCUs advance their sustainability goals and position themselves for the future, it was with an understanding that HBCUs are essential to not just black people, but to all people, because when black people advance, we lift as we climb.

What are ways online students can benefit from taking their programs from an HBCU?

Online students can benefit from tapping in to the HBCU network and attending classes with students and professors who have shared experiences.

Resources for African American Students

Thank you for visiting our guide describing the best historically Black colleges and universities. For more information, please check out the links below. These resources are tailored to African American students, and designed to assist them in different areas over the course of their higher education experience.

Our list of scholarships

This is the definitive list of scholarships available to African American students. In addition to the list, you'll find plenty of advice on how to apply for scholarships and how to stand out from other applicants

HBCU Lifestyle

This comprehensive guide to HBCU education includes resources for African American students and parents, as well as an 'Alumni Spotlight' feature and career resources for degree-holding job-seekers.

The Princeton Review

This article from the Princeton Review titled, 'Considering Historically Black Colleges and Universities,' offers tips for choosing the right HBCU ― or, for some, a non-HBCU school that offers the same opportunities and inclusive learning environment.


This guide from CollegeXpress lists 10 reasons why students should consider enrolling at an HBCU. These include supportive faculty members, an inclusive environment, courses tailored to Black students and strong alumni support networks.

HBCU Digest

With more than 2 million annual readers, this aggregator website includes an extensive archive of articles and blog posts related to HBCUs and the Black student experience. HBCU Digest is also home to four podcast series.

The United Negro College Fund

Established in 1944, the UNCF awards scholarships and other types of financial aid to students attending 37 different HBCUs in the U.S. UNCF member institutions account for more than 60,000 college graduates each year.

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