Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Demystifying the Contributions of Public Land-Grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Voices of HBCU Presidents

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Demystifying the Contributions of Public Land-Grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Voices of HBCU Presidents

Article excerpt


Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) represent one of many types of institutions in the American system of higher education. Comparatively little attention has been given to the campus ' executive leader, namely the president. Our study describes early twenty-first century contributions to and challenges of public land-grant historically Black colleges and universities to life in the United States, as perceived by HBCU presidents. Three major themes that emerged from the analysis of data generated from interviews are: (a) serving as 'the people's university,' (b) educating the 'underserved' everywhere, and (c) promoting racial uplift and empowerment. Suggestions for policy, practice, and research are discussed.


During the post-Emancipation era, Black Americans took advantage of the education offered by historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Since slavery prohibited them from obtaining an education, the pursuit of a formal education became significantly important. They believed that education would help them assert themselves as equals. Blacks have always thirsted for knowledge and a formal education (Allen & Jewell, 2002). Eventually, they were provided opportunities for academic pursuits. However, while most institutions of higher education catered only to the White male socially-elite (Brown, Ricard, & Donahoo, 2004), HBCUs opened their doors to both Blacks and poor Whites (Manzo, 2000). Furthermore, they provided education to students of all ages, despite limited resources. Indeed, HBCUs have had an ongoing commitment to educate students who are chronically underserved and have the least in terms of human and social capital.

Historically, HBCUs were founded specifically to educate Black Americans as most of them were refused admission elsewhere (Allen & Jewell, 2002). Furthermore, these land-grant institutions were supported through such federal statutory efforts as the Morrill Act of 1890 (Brown «fe Davis, 2001). The mission of these institutions was

to produce graduates who are leaders in and contribute to their communities, the nation, and the world; and to provide teaching, research, and extension and public service through collaborative efforts, which improve the standard of living and quality of life of diverse populations, including limited-resource persons (The Council of 1890 Presidents/Chancellors, 2000, p. 13).

Although, the Morrill Act provided funding for the operation of these institutions, it did not provide financial endowments that matched those of predominantly White land-grant institutions (Harris «fe Worthen, 2004).

As a result of federal legislation and funding, the number of HBCUs mushroomed over the 20th century; particularly the number of public land-grant HBCUs, which are affectionately known as the "1890 universities." There were nearly 130 HBCUs by 1960. Not all of these survived; in 2010, there were at least 103 HBCUs in America, representing approximately 3% of all postsecondary institutions (Hirt, Strayhom, Amelink, «fe Bennett, 2006). Currently, there are 18 public land-grant HBCUs, representing 17% of all HBCUs and 0.45% of all institutions in the nation.3 Although HBCUs represent a relatively small proportion of all postsecondary institutions in the United States, they educate 14% of Black undergraduate students and confer approximately 24% of all undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees each year (Stewart, Wright, Perry, «fe Rankin, 2008).

While land-grant institutions were established to focus on agriculture and industrial work, today land-grant HBCUs offer a wide range of degrees in subjects that include education, engineering, physics, theology, and agriculture. As the need for more skilled workers increase, many HBCUs are focusing on programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Recent data show that HBCUs awarded 41% of bachelor's degrees in biological sciences, 35% in computer sciences, 32% in mathematical sciences, 47% in physical sciences, and 22% in engineering (Pema, Gasman, Gary, LundyWagner, «fe Drezner, 2010). …

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