Debunking Common Myths About HBCUs

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Before the civil rights movement, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were some of the only schools to offer Black students access to a college degree and an inclusive environment. They also provided jobs to Black staff and faculty.

HBCUs have always played a vital role in Black communities, serving as some of the first tangible representations of institutions that celebrated and acknowledged Black culture.

However, HBCUs are generally misunderstood — especially when compared to predominantly white institutions (PWIs). HBCUs are often perceived to offer an inadequate education and substandard college experience relative to PWIs.

Additionally, many people think that HBCUs do not prepare students for postgraduate life. They view the schools as racist or believe they exclude non-Black students. There are also prevailing beliefs that HBCUs offer little return on investment to students, according to a 2014 survey conducted by PayScale.

While HBCUs are simply one educational choice among many, it is important that students make informed choices based on accurate information.

Here are five common myths about HBCUs.

Myth No. 1: HBCUs Offer a Substandard Education

Many critics believe that students who attend an HBCU receive an inadequate education. They may also be under the misimpression that many of these schools' academic programs lack accreditation, which would have a significant impact on a student's success after college.

However, a 2015 Gallup survey found that HBCUs offer Black graduates a better college experience than Black graduates at predominately white institutions.

Fifty-eight percent of graduates at HBCUs believed that their professors cared about them as individuals compared to only 25% of Black graduates at PWIs. HBCUs also can promote a student's sense of belonging, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. Many Black and Indigenous people of color(BIPOC) are historically and currently underrepresented in these in-demand fields of study.

HBCUs also educate more Black graduate students who pursue their master's and doctoral degrees. According to the National Science Foundation, 21 of the top 50 institutions that produce Black graduates who go on to earn a doctorate in science and engineering are HBCUs.

Myth No. 2: HBCUs Only Educate and Enroll Black Students

It is correct that HBCUs were conceived with the intention of providing Black students access to higher education. However, as the United States has become increasingly diverse, so have HBCUs.

For example, Bluefield State College in West Virginia is an HBCU, but over 80% of its students are white. Additionally, at Xavier University of Louisiana, roughly 1 in 5 students aren't Black. The demographic breakdowns of students at HBCUs vary widely from school to school.

There are many intrinsic benefits for non-Black students attending HBCUs. For example, they may be more likely to encounter diverse perspectives and learn about historical and present-day race relations.

Myth No. 3: HBCUs Don't Prepare Students for Postgraduate Life

Critics assert that due to inferior education and resource constraints at many HBCUs, they do not adequately prepare students for postgraduate life. However, Black HBCU graduates are more likely to indicate that they feel more prepared for life after graduation than Black graduates from non-HBCUs.

HBCU graduates also report higher quality and more meaningful relationships with professors and mentors. This can play a large role in a student's professional development.

Given that HBCUs produce more Black graduates with STEM degrees, many of these students are making huge advancements in science and technology fields.

HBCUs also have educated some of our most notable public figures, including Vice President Kamala Harris, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, and media executive and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.

HBCUs provide students with access to many influential people, which can have an impact on their future career success.

Myth No. 4: HBCUs Don't Offer Real-World Experiences

Some people may view HBCUs as party schools that only focus on Greek life. And because they are often believed to only enroll and educate Black students, many people think they don't offer students an experience that resembles the real world.

With HBCUs becoming increasingly diverse, students can learn how to navigate complex race relations, as well as how to manage racial microaggressions. While Greek life is important to HBCUs, there also are other aspects of campus life. Students can participate in a wide variety of student activities.

Additionally, like other schools, HBCUs also offer experiential learning and internship opportunities for students to develop job readiness and leadership skills.

Myth No. 5: HBCUs Don't Have Selective Admissions

Detractors assert that HBCUs are less rigorous because, in their view, anyone can get accepted. However, in general, HBCUs are much more selective than they were 10-20 years ago. Although roughly a third of HBCUs continue to use open admissions, most follow a selective admissions process.

It is also important to realize that schools often adopt open-admission policies to help ensure inclusivity and equity on campus. Many colleges and universities with high acceptance rates — including HBCUs — offer rigorous coursework and enforce high standards on campus, preparing students for success after graduation.

HBCUs have proven to be a formidable force in attracting students seeking a good education, a sense of belonging, and a curriculum focused on cultural empowerment and race relations.

The goal of every institution should be to foster an environment where students can thrive. And HBCUs have proven they can do this.

Feature Image: Ryan Herron / E+ / Getty Images