The Best HBCUs: ESSENCE and Money Rank Top Colleges For Black Students

ESSENCE partnered with Money Magazine to create a definitive list of the schools that serve us most. Here are the top HBCUs from our list of 50 Best Colleges for African-Americans.

Kenneth Terrell Apr, 11, 2016

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ESSENCE partnered with Money Magazine to create a definitive list of the schools that serve us most. Here are the top HBCUs from our list of 50 Best Colleges for African-Americans.

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With more than 10,000 students, FAMU is one of the largest HBCUs. Even more impressive is the fact that though nearly 92 percent of the student body comes from lower-income backgrounds, the average salary graduates earn is $45,000. This placed FAMU third in the nation in a ranking of social mobility.

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Spelman’s reputation as one of the best colleges for Black women has been heralded since its inception in 1881. According to one analysis, Spelman is producing just as many Black female founders of tech start-ups as prominent universities such as Stanford. “I often hear that there are not enough African-Americans interested in computer science,” said Mya Havard, 21, a junior who is majoring in mathematics. “At Spelman, where there is an all-Black hackathon and robotics team, I never feel discouraged to pursue a degree in a field where society says I might not belong.”

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NC A&T is on the rise. In 2014 it became the nation’s largest HBCU in terms of the number of students enrolled. That surge of student interest has continued. The reason? Academic excellence, especially in the sciences: In 2015, for the sixth year in a row, A&T produced the nation’s leading number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering among African-American students.

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An academic leader among HBCUs, Hampton continues to champion excellence in its students. This spring the Virginia university became the first HBCU to field a men’s lacrosse program that competes at the NCAA’s highest level. It also recently added its first officially recognized group for LGBTQ students, which is named MOSAIC (Motivating Open-minded Social Acceptance and Inspiring Change). “Hopefully now more young Black men and women will feel more comfortable to apply and attend HBCUs that have embraced the concept of inclusion and equity,” wrote Elijah Levon, a recent grad and founder of the LGBTQ group. “I am proud to say I am a Hampton man.”

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When it comes to colleges that help their graduates move into well-paid careers, Bowie State is proving to be one of the best values in the nation. In addition to its place on our list, this Maryland university finished 61 out of 1,275 schools that The Economist ranked based on how much their graduates earned. Bowie’s alumni brought in around $6,000 more per year than what they were likely to have earned had they attended a different college.

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Whether it’s high ranking for programs in criminal justice and animation or it’s recognition for the academic excellence of student–athletes, Virginia State is a public university that has great opportunities for students across the board. The school developed an emphasis on entrepreneurship and workforce development for all students.

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Like several HBCUs, Howard has faced some financial hurdles in recent years, but its academic reputation, and the commitment of its alumni, have never waned. Now there are signs that a financial turnaround might be on the horizon, as the university looks to benefit from the economic boom in the neighborhoods surrounding its Washington, D.C., campus. Howard recently announced a deal that will earn the university $22 million by leasing a former dormitory into redevelopment as luxury apartments. “This is really for us to find ways to find capital to reinvest in the university’s mission,” a Howard vice-president said of the deal.

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Founded in 1871, Alcorn State became the nation’s first historically Black public land-grant university. Its School of Education and Psychology is particularly strong, making it the first HBCU to earn accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). There are plenty of activities at the Mississippi-based Alcorn, too: The social life ranges from rooting for the 2015
division champion Braves football team to swinging at the annual university-sponsored jazz music festival.

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Last fall JSU officially launched its School of Journalism and Media Studies. Students can sharpen their skills at two television stations, a radio station and an affiliate, a weekly student newspaper and a student-produced magazine. In 2013 JSU opened an additional campus to help boost its enrollment, hoping to draw in more talented applicants to its campus.

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Looking to get a valuable degree in accounting at an affordable price? ECSU’s undergraduate accounting program was recently selected as one of the best in the nation by Accounting Degree Review. It was thirteenth overall on the “30 Most Affordable Undergraduate Accounting Programs 2016” list, making it the highest ranking for an HBCU. But while providing a strong education to its students, the North Carolina institution has faced significant challenges in recent years, such as declines in enrollment and financial struggles. ECSU recently partnered with East Carolina University, a combination intended to provide students with additional support.

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Prairie View was thrust into the national Black Lives Matter movement last summer when Sandra Bland, an alumna who’d recently returned to the school for a new job, died in a nearby jail cell where she had been kept for three days following what began as a routine traffic stop. The tragedy shone a spotlight on the sometimes tense relationships students feel between the college and the surrounding community. Still the university itself has thrived in recent years—a period when many other HBCUs have struggled—-because it is part of the Texas A&M University system. On campus, that translates into a strong honor’s program and opportunities for students to study abroad in China.

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When it was founded in 1909, North Carolina Central University became the first liberal arts college in the nation dedicated to the education of African-Americans. Since then, it has expanded to include a top law school and a jazz program. NCCU students are also committed to making a difference outside the classroom: All are required to volunteer for at least 120 hours of community service to graduate.

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Looking for an HBCU with an international student body and options to study abroad? TSU’s Office of Diversity and International Affairs has helped the university host almost 1,000 international students. Its study abroad program has also exploded, going from 36 students in 2012 to more than 120 in three years.

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With a campus motto of “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” Winston-Salem is an HBCU that has a deep commitment to contributing to the community, whether through opening a food pantry on campus to help students who might be struggling to afford meals to working to produce more graduates who can improve the diversity of employees in North Carolina’s health care industry.

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At this small, private college in Alabama, being a top student can be a fashion statement. The college’s president started an honor society in which students who hold a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher receive custom-tailored blazers in the school’s powder blue and crimson colors to wear to school events. The idea, according to the president, is to give bright scholars a uniform, just like the top student–athletes get. Equally eye-catching at Talladega is the college’s six murals by legendary artist Hale Woodruff the college commissioned in the 1930’s. The paintings, one of which depicts the African rebellion on the slave ship Amistad, were on an exhibition tour of museums and will tentatively return to the campus in 2017, the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the college’s founding.