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Black colleges and universities

February is Black History Month. Each day this month, some historical aspect of blacks in America will be featured in a Black History Month Moment. Today's moment concerns the role and contribution of historically black colleges and universities.

Black colleges and universities

For almost a century, the major source of higher education for black students were historically black colleges, which exist in 19 states, mostly in the South.

Most were founded after the Civil War to teach former slaves. The oldest, Cheyney State in Pennsylvania, was founded in 1837; the newest, Valley State College in Mississippi, was founded in 1950.

Sixteen of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU's in educational parlance) were founded in the 1800s as land-grant colleges, which originally got federal aid because they promised to establish programs in agriculture and mechanical arts.

Most were public, often founded with significant black leadership.

Florida has three predominantly black colleges or universities: Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Edward Waters College in Jacksonville and Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee.

In 1964, more than 51 percent of all black students in college were enrolled in historically black colleges and universities. By 1970, the proportion was 28 percent; by 1978, 16.5 percent.

Historically black colleges and universities continue to award a significant portion of the degrees earned by African-Americans. The College Placement Council says black colleges produce 32 percent of all black college graduates, while enrolling only 17 percent of black college students nationwide.

The majority of the black professionals in any field in Florida are products of HBCUs, said Eddie Jackson, director of public affairs at FAMU. For example, about 90 percent of the state's black pharmacists graduated from HBCU's institutions, he said.

Most of the state's blacks in positions of leadership in the fields of medicine, law, politics, education and business are HBCU graduates.

HBCUs have bolstered efforts to recruit the best students. For example, FAMU has recruited more National Achievement Scholars than any other school except Harvard University, Jackson said.

Black parents are enrolling their children in HBCU's in record numbers even though the percentage of black 18- to 24-year-olds in college has declined.

One of the reasons given by analysts is the increased racial harassment on predominantly white campuses. The National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence in Baltimore says 20 to 25 percent of minority students in U.S. colleges experience racial harassment every year.

Other reasons cited for the renewed interest in HBCs are improved recruitment, lower tuition, a desire by black parents to have their children in a nurturing environment, strong traditional academic programs, and higher visibility of historically black colleges (as illustrated on the NBC television show A Different World).

Because of these factors, more students of all races are choosing HBCUs. For example, FAMU is one of the most integrated public schools in the state system. Of its 9,186 students this year, about 1,000 (10.9 percent) are white.

Source: Negro Almanac,

St. Petersburg Times files.