Honors Programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

By Mitchell, Ivy A. | Education, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Honors Programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Mitchell, Ivy A., Education


Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were first established in the United States many years ago to meet the educational needs of blacks who were disenfranchised by the predominantly white population of the country. Qualified blacks were prevented from attending colleges and universities both public and private owned and operated by whites. This was so whether the universities and colleges were public or private. Blacks, therefore, had to take charge of educating their own. The first HBCU, Cheyney State University was established in 1837. Over the years, even with competition from the increasing number of white institutions of higher learning, HBCUs have continued to survive and to perform well. At present there are 106 HBCUs devoted to the needs of black students. The last one, Morehouse School of Medicine, was established in 1975.

Although black students can attend any university of their choosing, they continue in large numbers to select HBCUs. With high ACT and SAT scores and with high school grade point averages of more than 3.5, black outstanding students are being sought after by many of the prestigious colleges in the nation. The excellent students enrolling in HBCUs have had the option of attending Ivy League colleges and other top universities but they choose continually to attend HBCUs. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, an HBCU, has over the years been competing favorably with Yale and Harvard universities for more National Achievement Scholars--the most academically talented black students graduating from high school. Figure L shows that for three consecutive years 1995-1997 HBCUs attracted more of these scholars than Harvard or Yale--Florida A&M University in 1995 with 59 National Achievement Scholars and again in 1997 with 73 such scholars and Howard University in 1996 with 70 scholars. Figure II shows that between 1994 and 1998 both Howard and FAMU ranked among the top five universities in the nation attracting National Achievement Scholars. FAMU ranked 6th, 5th and 3rd , 5th and 3rd again and Howard was ranked 5th, 3rd, 5th,3rd, and 4th, in the same period. (See Figure 2)

The enrollment of these students in HBCUs indicate that their parents, many of whom were probably educated at one of these institutions, do trust these colleges and universities with the education of their children and expect them to be well educated.

What, therefore, are the programs that are implemented to help prepare these students to function as contributing members of society? This paper discusses the Honors Programs at HBCUs, the challenges for students entering these programs and the important contribution that the National African American Association Honors Programs is making in assisting to prepare these Honor students for life beyond the bachelor's degree.

The Honors Programs

Price (1998) has stated that the development of any community requires intellectual capital and HBCUs must make available a supply of black intellectuals with doctorates in the intellectual disciplines. To provide doctorates is one of the objectives of Honors Programs at these schools. The programs were created to provide students with a challenging college experience that enhances their university experience. Even though some universities have Honors Colleges--Grambling University, Hampton University, Jackson State University, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Voorhees College are examples--the basic programs are similar. However, the Honors Colleges receive a little more prominence because they have as their administrative head a dean instead of a director. The strengths of these programs lie in the fact that they are committed to nurturing the potential to achieve of the academically-talented students who come to the universities. Self-development, leadership skills, and personal worth are enhanced and the honor students have opportunities to conduct research and exchange ideas in a supportive academic environment. …

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