The role of HBCUs in the college decision process

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Photos by National Geographic

Nia Smith, Staff Relations

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been responsible for providing stable and nurturing environments for students of color interested in pursuing higher education. In order for an institution to classify as an HBCU according to the Higher Education Act of 1965, the college or university must be dedicated to educating African Americans and established before 1964. Historically black institutions have also been responsible for well known celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey, a graduate from Tennessee State University, Taraji P. Henson, a Howard University graduate, Samuel L. Jackson from Morehouse College and plenty more. 

North Carolina allows many opportunities for African American students to, if choosing to pursue higher education, attend institutions that will not view them as a minority. North Carolina is home to twelve HBCUs. The abundance of HBCUs throughout North Carolina offers opportunities for many young African American students to pursue higher education in a diverse setting. Selah West, a senior at Athens Drive High School, plans to attend an HBCU with an intent to obtain a degree in nursing.

“I think HBCUs are important because they allow a safe space for African Americans to learn without being the minority for once” said West.

Historically black colleges are in most cases predominantly black institutions that are capable of surrounding populations that are often seen as minorities with high achieving people that have similar backgrounds. These institutions are commonly known to help young students embrace black culture. HBCUs were created after the Civil War as the result of students of color not being welcomed at other universities. The process of picking a college can be overwhelming. For many students, the college search is an individualized experience that is based solely on one’s individual needs, beliefs, interests and goals. Although HBCUs may not be the best option for some, the educational opportunities frequently associated with a degree from an HBCU can benefit a graduate in multiple ways. Large companies and organizations often attend career fairs in search of students graduating from minority serving institutions. This allows students to line up jobs and internships early within their academic journey.

Many high school courses do not provide a diverse enough experience for some. This can sometimes contribute to a false perception of academic excellence and an understanding that people of color are often not achieving academic success. Many HBCU graduates have stated that by attending a predominantly African American institution, allowed them to be centered around people with similar goals. Many know that surrounding yourself with people that are striving for the same thing can enhance your experience as well as promote your academic growth. 

“I personally love the environment of having educated black people all in one space, it motivates me to do my best” said West.

There are plenty of options for students when picking schools to apply to or attend. It is helpful to evaluate all of the options and what each school has to offer. The process is individualized, for some, culture and unity could be more important than location but not for others. HBCUs continue to provide a welcoming environment for black students as they pursue higher education and will continue to serve the community.