September 25, 2020

What You Didn’t Know About HBCUs

Established out of necessity and sustained through stamina and grit 

By Saki Indakwa, Texas Southern University, MBA 2006

As a graduate of Texas Southern University and the daughter of two HBCU alums, I thought I knew the history of how and why HBCUs were established.  But as we celebrate National Historically Black Colleges & Universities Week September 20-26, and I participated in virtual celebrations with friends who attended HBCUs from all over the country, from schools I never heard of, I wanted to learn more. What I discovered, makes me even more proud to be an HBCU graduate.  

I received my bachelor degree from the University of Houston and my MBA from Texas Southern University.  The universities are less than half a mile and within walking distance from each other, but the schools and my experiences at each were like night and day. 

At UH I was a number. Classes were in huge conference rooms taught by teaching assistants. In my four years at UH, I only met half a dozen of my professors. Only a few even knew my name. At TSU, I knew all my professors and they all knew me. Several even knew my father and treated me like another daughter. They noticed when I missed class. They encouraged me when I struggled. 

I’ll never forget that day I took my first statistics exam. I choked. I could not remember a single formula or calculation. Choking back tears, I walked up to my professor and handed in my incomplete exam. He whispered some encouraging words to me and reminded me that I had aced all the quizzes. He told me I was able to answer those same questions in class. He gently guided me back to my seat and I completed the exam. I ended up getting an A in that class and the majority of my other classes where my professors were similarly as caring as my first statistics professor.  Genuine care, encouragement, and expectations of excellence are a few of the unique and beneficial attributes of HBCUs. 

It was a dream deferred.

In 1799, Washington and Lee University admitted John Chavis, the first Black student on record to attend college. His admittance came 163 years after Harvard University, the nation’s first university was established. In 1837, a Quaker philanthropist donated $10,000 to design and establish a school to educate Black students to become teachers. 

The Institute for Colored Youth became the first higher education institution for Blacks in the U.S. In 1854, the nation’s first degree-granting HBCU, Lincoln University, was established in Pennsylvania and in 1856; the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Wilberforce University in Ohio. It was the first private Black college in the country.

HBCUs helped open the doors of access and empower Blacks students with the education they need.

In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act that provided each state with Federal land that could be sold to fund public colleges that focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts. Sixty-nine colleges were funded by these land grants, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Texas A&M, and Prairie View A&M, which was founded in 1876 as the Alta Vista Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Benefit of Colored Youth and originally was a part of the Texas A&M University system.

Admission to Texas A&M was limited to white males, so in an effort to maintain separate but equal, PVAMU was established and became the first state supported college in Texas for Blacks.

For a century after the end of slavery in 1865, colleges and universities in the South prohibited Black people from attending, while institutions in other parts of the country routinely used quotas to limit admissions of Blacks.  

Land grant colleges barred or limited admissions of Blacks.

The first colleges for Black students were established with support from the missionaries that taught runaway slaves.  The Freedmen’s Bureau which was created by Congress to help in the “reconstruction” of the South, also set up education programs and allocated land the federal government had claimed as “abandoned” during the war to help create Black colleges. 

The Second Morrill Act of 1890 prohibited racial discrimination in admissions policies for colleges receiving these federal funds. States found a way to escape this provision by maintaining separate institutions and dividing the funds in a “just,” but not necessarily equal, manner. Consequently, this led to the establishment of land grant institutions for Blacks. Today there are nineteen 1890 land grant institutions.  These institutions are among the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities in the U.S.  

For nearly two centuries, HBCU graduates have profoundly shaped American life and culture. 

HBCUs serve a critical role in higher education, especially for our students, by increasing social mobility more quickly than Predominantly White Institutions that fall into the same competitiveness category. In 2019, KIPP Public Schools made a recommendation to Congress to fund HBUCs and Minority Serving Institutions in the 2019 Higher Ed Report and has supported the passing of the FUTURE Act.  

  • More than 2,100 KIPP alumni are enrolled at HBCUs  
  • KIPP has eight HBCU college partners. Dillard University, Fisk University, Howard University, Morehouse College, North Carolina Central University, Spelman College, Texas Southern University, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. 
  • KIPP surveys show that KIPP alumni report a stronger sense of belonging and stronger health outcomes when attending HBCUs. In addition, students are more likely to have a mentor and to seek out academic support than students at non-HBCUs. 
  • KIPP’s early data indicates that KIPP alumni enrolled in HBCUs experience higher first-to-second year persistence rates than peers with similar academic backgrounds enrolled in other colleges. 

This week KIPP Texas Public Schools has been celebrating National HBCU Week by recognizing the achievements of HBCUs, their students and alumni.  Check out our KIPP Texas Facebook, KIPP Texas Instagram, and KIPP Texas Twitter pages as we highlight our HBCU graduates who are making Black history through their work in KIPP Texas to educate, inspire and empower our Little KIPPsters with the audacity to be leaders and create a better world.