June 13, 2024

The importance of HBCUs as they grow in popularity – Scripps News

Rooted in Black culture and traditions, historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are seeing higher enrollment.
From Fisk University becoming the first historically Black college to start a gymnastics team, to Tennessee State University's marching band winning a Grammy — what once was the primary way for Black Americans to get a college education, now plays a crucial role in higher education and continue to make historic strides. 
To date, there are 99 HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the U.S. with more than 200,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  
And even though HBCUs make up just 3% of the nation's colleges and universities, they produce 22% of all African-American bachelor degrees, according to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund
While other colleges and universities are seeing a decline in enrollment — partly due to the pandemic — HBCUs are growing in popularity.   
Spelman College in Atlanta said it saw over 11,000 applications in 2021, which is nearly triple the number of applications in 2014. 
Wilberforce University is one of America's oldest HBCUs, and it's still helping Black Americans forge their way.
A fourth-generation HBCU graduate and Nashville native, Tracey Hughes Royal, attended Spelman College in 1986.   
"My time there was magical," she said. "As soon as I set foot on Spelman Campus, it felt like home."
She says going to an HBCU was one of the best decisions she ever made, making life-long friendships.  
"The best thing about Spelman is, when I looked at my classmates and I looked at my professors, they looked like me," she said. "So, I felt like I belonged and I didn't really have to compete as much or feel as though I had to just prove my value, prove my intelligence."
Studies have found that Black students attend HBCUs for three reasons: To be in an environment where people look like them, to experience lower levels of racism and to explore their cultural roots. 
When it comes to cultural roots, Royal's family history runs deep within HBCUs.  
She spent the last 15 years tracing her family's history, starting with her great-great-grandfather, Richard Harris
The luxury jewelry company will donate $2 million in scholarships for arts students at five Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
"He was born on a plantation in Virginia, purchased his freedom, somehow made his way back down to Tennessee," Royal shared. "He was one of the first Black business owners here in Nashville. In the late 1800s, he owned a grocery store, he was a cotton broker, he then opened up a used furniture store, and as a result, he became the first Negro Trustee for Fisk University. So, he was highly regarded. He actually built his own house, which is now on Fisk Campus."
Harris' sister-in-law was one of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers
"There's probably about 50 to 60 descendants of the Harris family that have matriculated through Fisk," Royal said. 
She keeps a photo of her great-great-grandfather in her office, as a reminder to keep going.   
"I will look at a picture and use it as motivation for whatever I may be going through," Royal continued. "I'll look at all he survived and, if he can do it and be successful and have his own business, I have no complaints."

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© 2024 Scripps News, part of The E.W. Scripps Company. All Rights Reserved.

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