One of the hottest topics of today is diversity. Now more than ever we hear about the importance of diversifying the workplace, government, pop-culture, literature, etc. However, as studies have shown, higher education still has a ways to go in order to catch up with the rest of the world.

According to a study done by the American Council on Education in 2016, only 12% of college presidents were minority men, and only 5% were minority women, whereas 58% of college presidents were White men, and 25% were White women. If we take into account that “minority” men and women encompasses anybody who classifies themselves as anything other than “White,” we can surmise that the percentage of African-American presidents, both male and female, is much lower than the 17% stated above.

Another racial disparity in higher education can be seen in the type of students admitted to college in the top three tiers of selectivity. While 75% of freshman admitted were White, only 7% were African-American [1]. It is statistics like this that make HBCUs so relevant when discussing diversity in higher education.

The Importance of HBCUs

24 years before the American Civil War the first higher ed institution for black students, The Institute for Colored Youth, was created. Schools like The Institute for Colored Youth were founded with the purpose of providing higher education to the African American community, since they were not allowed to attend colleges or universities otherwise.

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Today, these schools are known as HBCUs (or Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and over 100 of these historical institutions are still open. Although HBCUs only make up approximately 3% of schools, “they produce 24 percent of black STEM grads and confer almost 35 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by black graduates in astronomy, biology, chemistry, math, and physics [2].” Based on these statistics alone, the importance of HBCUs to the African-American community becomes extremely apparent and highlights why they must be properly funded and supported.

A Hopeful Future

Although, not all statistics regarding diversity in higher ed are so disheartening. For the first time in 15 years, the percentage of African-American presidents in American institutions has increased. In 2016, it was surveyed that 8 percent of college presidents were Black, Afro-Caribbean, or African American, up 2% since 2001. While 8% is still far too low a percentage, the fact that this number is on the rise for the first time in over a decade could indicate the beginning of a long overdue change.

Another great development for HBCUs occurred last week when four historically black colleges: Dillard University, Southern University at New Orleans, Xavier University and Tougaloo College, were cleared of a combined $300 million worth of debt. Due to Hurricane Katrina these institutions suffered severe damage, but can now continue to recover and serve their students without this financial strain.

While it is clear that higher ed still has a lot room for improvement, we must support not only our schools and students, but our administration as well, in the name of diversity.

Important Dates in History


The first higher education institution for black students, The Institute for Colored Youth, is founded in Cheyney, Pennsylvania by Richard Humphreys


Mary Jane Patterson becomes the first black woman in the United States to graduate from an established four-year college: Oberlin College


Daniel A. Payne becomes the first African American college president of Wilberforce University


Tuskegee Institute is founded by Booker T. Washington


Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: Supreme Court rules that segregation in public schools unconstitutional


The NAACP register nine black students (known today as the Little Rock Nine) to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High



Ruby Bridges is the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American South


James Meredith, a civil rights activist, becomes the first African American to attend the then all-white, University of Mississippi


Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson becomes the first African American woman to earn a doctorate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Dr. Ruth J. Simmons becomes the first African American woman to head an Ivy League Institution: Brown University

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