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The Plight of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions established prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that focuses on educating African-Americans. They have a long, rich history in U.S. education. But with the end of segregation in education, fewer black students are choosing to attend HBCUs, so their enrollment numbers and funds are suffering. Let’s take a look at the history of HBCUs and the declining state of them today.

By the Numbers


Number of HBCUs in the U.S. today (1)

Of those 100 …

51 are public schools.

49 are private schools.


Number of states with HBCUs (1)


Number of students enrolled in HBCUs (1)


Percentage of degrees earned by HBCU students that were bachelor degrees (1)

$8.5 billion

Total revenue for HBCUs in 2010-2011 (1)

Brief History of HBCUs

Let’s look at a brief timeline of HBCUs from the early 1800s to 2000. (2,3)

1799: John Chavis is the first black person to attend an American college or university.

1823: Alexander Lucius Twilight is the first black person to receive a degree from a college in the U.S. He receives a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont.

1837: The African Institute (now named Cheyney University in Pennsylvania) is established for free blacks. But it does not become a degree-granting school until 1932.

1854: Ashmun Institute, now known as Lincoln University, in Oxford, Pennsylvania, is founded as the first institution of higher education for black men. Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall later graduate from this school.

1880: 45 black colleges and universities exist in the U.S.

1932: There are 117 HBCUs (36 public and 81 private) in the U.S.

1954: Brown v. The Board of Education eliminates the legal basis for racial segregation in higher education.

1957: Legislation is passed in Tennessee that requires state universities to desegregate.

1970s: The implementation of affirmative action allows for the fair treatment of blacks during college admission processes.

1980: The United Negro College fund holds its first telethon, receiving $14.1 million in donations to support HBCUs.

1990s: Multiple states, including Louisiana, California and Florida, pass legislation that makes it illegal for colleges and universities to discriminate against applicants based on race.

The Problem Years: 2000-Present

In 2001, an affirmative action admissions program at the University of Georgia is ruled unconstitutional. The next year, black applicants drop by 20%. (2)


Percentage of all colleges and universities that used race as a factor in the admissions process in 2003 (2)

Today …

Only 9% of black students are choosing HCBUs, compared to 80% during the Civil Rights movement. (5)

No HBCU school has a graduation rate higher than 70%. The bottom half of HBCUs have graduation rates no higher than 34%.(5)

HBCUs account for only 3% of colleges and universities in the U.S. (4)

HBCUs award 20% of all degrees received by black Americans. (4)

It is predicted that by 2035, the number of HBCUs in the U.S. will drastically fall from 104 to about 35. (4, 5)








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