Former First Lady Michelle Obama giving a graduation address
at North Carolina A&T University, an HBCU.
The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines HBCUs as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.” HBCUs have a long legacy of producing successful graduates in all fields, with an active professional alumni network, which is one of the primary draws. In a competitive job market, students know they will have an extensive network within which to search for a job after graduation.
HBCUs are known to be a good value for the money. With tuitions often lower than their counterparts, HBCUs offer an excellent education, a valuable network, intimate mentoring, and more diversity than most applicants would assume. HBCUs also provide an extensive knowledge of sources of financial support.
Diversity is valued. HBCUs draw a wide range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. They value international students and deliberately build a diverse community both among students and faculty. In a world where global interaction is increasing, being educated in a more culturally diverse environment is an advantage.
Retention is important at any college, and HBCUs had struggled with this in the past, partly due to a high number of first-generation college students. However, in recent years, HBCUs have addressed this with innovative strategies for retention and remediation, where necessary. Graduation rates have improved significantly, with some HBCUs logging rates at the highest level.
Dr. Adriel Hilton comments in The Huffington Post, that “with the absence of the hostile racial climate found at PWIs [Predominantly White Institutions], HBCUs consistently prove to be effective in creating a nurturing and supportive environment for all students and fostering a space that is not only conducive for learning, but also makes students feel comfortable and satisfied.” Faculty focus primarily on teaching and closely mentor students in research. Students consistently identify their student/faculty relationships as a reason for their success, and the benefits they find in being mentored by faculty of similar race and background.
The Office of Civil Rights indicates that “as a result of the desegregation plans approved by OCR under Title VI, many state systems of higher education have placed new high demand programs and curricula-such as engineering, pharmacy, and computer science-at HBCUs.” Thus, students can be assured of access to new and innovative programs in STEM. HBCUs also focus on courses that allow students to further explore African American history and culture.
As for alumni networking and mentoring, HBCUs not only have individual alumni groups, but they also have some alumni alliance groups that draw from several institutions. The Atlanta Alumni Alliance is an example, with partnerships in the DC Metro area, Chicago, Miami, and Houston. These alliances provide networking for jobs, but they also sponsor events to bring together alumni from various colleges for charitable work.
Historically, attending an HBCU as an undergraduate can set a student on a path to building valuable relationships, to a deeper understanding of the student’s history and culture, to limiting the amount of educational debt, to discovering a community that embraces and empowers diversity.
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