Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established to provide African American students with a venue to pursue a post-secondary education. These colleges and universities began emerging as the Civil War came to an end instilling further hope for change. Out of 107 schools, only three have had to close their doors with Cheyney University, the oldest HBCU founded in 1837, still fully operational. Iconic figures such as Oprah, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Vice President Kamala Harris attended HBCUs and their successes are legendary. Although students initially attended HBCUs because they had no other options, with the end of segregation and over three thousand colleges to choose from, what still draws students to HBCUs?
After doing some research about HBCUs, I reached out to a friend from high school who attended Morehouse in Atlanta, Georgia, a college ranked as one of the top ten HBCUs in 2021 by U.S.News. He shared that his decision to attend an HBCU was fueled by his strong desire to enroll in a college where he could see people who looked like him and where race would be removed from the equation. Both of his parents had also gone to HBCUs and their positive stories about the campus culture helped him keep an open mind about what type of experience HBCUs had to offer. Reflecting on his college days, he could not say enough about the genuine interest the professors took in their students as well as the minute details the career services staff took in preparing students for job interviews. Students were required to attend weekly preparatory meetings where skills taught would range from executing the perfect handshake, selecting a professional-looking suit, crafting a memorable resume, and nailing the interview to obtain a position in a competitive job market. My friend went on to attend law school at a non-HBCU university and compared his experience at each school. Granted in law school the expectations are higher, however he feels the time and care his undergraduate professors invested in him far exceed what he would have gotten elsewhere.
HBCUs are not just for African American students. Over the years, campuses like Howard and Spelman (Morehouse’s sister school) have attracted non-African American students who are looking for a college experience which includes not only a good education and job opportunities after graduation, but a diversity that rivals most college campuses. When working with students, I often ask, “What are you looking for in a college campus?” The reply I hear the most? Diversity, with campus culture and job placement tying at second place. These hidden gems definitely deserve a second look. I plan to take the HBCU College Tour as soon as Covid-19 is no longer an issue, until then I plan to tour virtually!