Each year since 1988, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has identified 11 of America's most endangered historic treasures. The list includes individual buildings, landscapes, and whole communities, both urban and rural. The trust explains that "the list spotlights places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development, or insensitive public policy" (National Trust for Historic Preservation 2011, [paragraph] 1). In 1998, 10 years into the program, the National Trust grouped every single Historically Black College and University (HBCU) into one endangered national treasure.
The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) (1998) estimated at that time that these HBCUs had 712 buildings in need of restoration and protection at a cost of $755 million. Today, that number would be $1.1 billion, and this assumes low inflation and completed renovation of some buildings during that interval. The GAO also noted that 45.4 percent of the buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places and another 28.9 percent were eligible. Thus, nearly 75 percent of the building inventory on HBCU campuses in 1998 was at least 50 years old and historically important. Unfortunately, this endangered national treasure, the cultural resource for many communities across our country, is slowly slipping away.
There are 105 HBCUs in the United States today as defined by the federal Higher Education Act of 1965. There may be additional institutions whose mission and focus is on minority students, but the number of institutions prior to 1964 is set. There will not be any additional HBCUs, but more than likely there will be fewer.
HBCUs are as diverse as higher education. These institutions have different histories, different cultures, and different resources. They are public and private, large and small, two-year and four-year, single sex and coed, religious and non-denominational. The common thread that binds them is their mission to provide access to higher education for African Americans, who were previously enslaved and later segregated in the United States.
The first wave of schools established for freed blacks was started in the North before the Civil War. Due to relocations and other interruptions, many of these schools did not survive, and their successor institutions are no longer connected to their original campuses or historic structures. The next wave of schools was established for recently emancipated slaves and their children in the South following the Civil War. The combined efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau, abolitionist organizations, religious denominations, and local community groups established more than 500 schools across the country (Drewry and Doermann 2001; read chapter 3, "The Beginnings of Black Higher Education" pp. 27-40, for a succinct overview of the early founding of black schools in the United States).
In 1890, Congress passed the second Morrill Act, which stated that blacks were entitled to attend land-grant schools. This ushered in an era of public education for Blacks in segregated schools throughout the southern states. The beginning of the 20th century saw still more schools established for blacks, but by the Great Depression of the 1930s the number of these schools had begun to decline. Many factors contributed to the closings, consolidations, and mergers, including diminished financial support from northern philanthropists and church groups and the rise of accreditation agencies for colleges and universities. During the 1950s and early '60s, some new HBCUs were founded, and there were more mergers and consolidations. Many HBCU campuses were caught up in the civil rights protests of the 1960s, which culminated in the desegregation of public facilities and schools and in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1965 Higher Education Act.
Despite their age, history, and mission--or perhaps because of it--many HBCUs are economically fragile institutions, and the number of failing HBCUs could increase significantly over the next 15 or 20 years. …