Top Historically Black Colleges and Universities

There are 83 four-year HBCUs in the United States; these are some of the best.

Graduating Students at Howard University
Graduating Students at Howard University. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Historically black colleges or universities, or HBCUs, were typically founded with a mission of providing higher education opportunities to African Americans when segregation often made such opportunities elusive. Many HBCUs were founded soon after the Civil War, but continued racial inequality makes their mission relevant today.

Below are eleven of the top historically black colleges and universities in the United States. The schools on the list were chosen based on four- and six-year graduation rates, retention rates, and overall academic value. Keep in mind that these criteria favor more selective schools since stronger college applicants are more likely to succeed in college. Also recognize that the selection criteria used here may have little to do with the qualities that would make a college a good match for your own personal, academic, and career interests.

Rather than force the schools into a rather arbitrary ranking, they are listed alphabetically. It would make little sense to directly compare a large public university like North Carolina A & M with a small Christian college like Tougaloo College. That said, in most national publications, Spelman College and Howard University tend to top the rankings.

Tingley Memorial Hall at Claflin University
Tingley Memorial Hall at Claflin University. Ammodramus / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

Founded in 1869, Claflin University is the oldest  HBCU in South Carolina. The university does well on the financial aid front, and nearly all students get some form of grant aid. The admissions bar isn't as high as some schools on this list, but with a 42% acceptance rate applicants will need to demonstrate their capacity to contribute to the campus community and succeed academically.

  • Location: Orangeburg, South Carolina
  • Type of Institution: Private liberal arts university affiliated with the Methodist Church
  • Enrollment: 1,978 (1,905 undergraduates)
FAMU Basketball Arena
FAMU Basketball Arena. Rattlernation / Wikimedia Commons

The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Florida A&M or FAMU, is one of only two public universities to make this list. The school wins high marks for graduating African Americans in the sciences and engineering, although FAMU is about much more than STEM fields. Business, journalism, criminal justice, and psychology are among the most popular majors. Academics are supported by a 15 to 1 student / faculty ratio. In athletics, the Rattlers compete in the NCAA Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The campus is just a few blocks from Florida State University.

  • Location: Tallahassee, Florida
  • Type of Institution: Public University
  • Enrollment: 9,619 (7,769 undergraduates)
Memorial Church at Hampton University
Memorial Church at Hampton University. Douglas W. Reynolds / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Located on an attractive waterfront campus in southeastern Virginia, Hampton University can boast of strong academics with a healthy 13 to 1 student / faculty ratio as well as NCAA Division I athletics. The Pirates compete in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). The university was founded in 1868 shortly after the American Civil War. Academic programs in biology, business, and psychology are among the most popular.

  • Location: Hampton, Virginia
  • Type of Institution: Private university
  • Enrollment: 4,646 (3,863 undergraduates)
Founders Library at Howard University
Founders Library at Howard University. Flickr Vision / Getty Images

Howard University is typically ranked among the top one or two HBCUs, and it certainly has the most selective admissions standards, one of the highest graduation rates, and the largest endowment. It's also one of the more expensive HBCUs, but three-quarters of applicants receive grant aid with an average award over $20,000. Academics are supported by an impressive 8 to 1 student / faculty ratio.

  • Location: District of Columbia
  • Type of Institution: Private university
  • Enrollment: 8,966 (5,899 undergraduates)
Johnson C. Smith University
Johnson C. Smith University. James Willamor / Flickr

Johnson C. Smith University does a good job educating and graduating students who aren't always well prepared for college when they first matriculate. The school wins high marks for its technology infrastructure, and it was the first HBCU to provide every student with a laptop computer. Academics are supported by an 11 to 1 student / faculty ratio, and popular programs criminology, social work, and biology. 

  • Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Type of Institution: Private university
  • Enrollment: 1,428 (1,326 undergraduates)
Graves Hall at Morehouse College
Graves Hall at Morehouse College. Thomson200 / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

Morehouse College has numerous distinctions including being one of the only all-male colleges in the United States. Morehouse typically ranks among the very best historically black colleges, and the school's strengths in the liberal arts and sciences earned it a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.

  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Type of Institution: Private all-male liberal arts college
  • Enrollment: 2,108 (all undergraduate)
Michelle Obama Speaks At NC Agricultural and Technical State Univ. Commencement
Michelle Obama speaks at North Carolina A&T. Sara D. Davis / Getty Images

The North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is one of the 16 institutions in the University of North Carolina system. It's one of the largest HBCUs and offers well over 100 undergraduate degree programs that are supported by a 19 to 1 student / faculty ratio. Popular majors span fields in the sciences, social sciences, business, and engineering. The university has a 200-acre main campus as well as a 600-acre farm. The Aggies compete in the NCAA Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), and the school also takes pride in its Blue & Gold Marching Machine.

  • Location: Tuskegee, Alabama
  • Type of Institution: Public university
  • Enrollment: 11,177 (9,668 undergraduates)
Spelman College Graduation
Spelman College Graduation. Erik S. Lesser / Getty Images

Spelman College has the highest graduation rate of all the HBCUs, and this all-female college also wins high marks for social mobility — Spelman graduates tend to go on to do impressive things with their lives; among the alumnae ranks are novelist Alice Walker, singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, and numerous successful attorneys, politicians, musicians, business women, and actors. Academics are supported by an 11 to 1 student / faculty ratio, and roughly 80% of students receive grant aid. The college is selective, and only about a third of all applicants are admitted.

  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Type of Institution: Private all-female liberal arts college
  • Enrollment: 2,125 (all undergraduate)
The steeple of Woodworth Chapel at Tougaloo College
The steeple of Woodworth Chapel at Tougaloo College. Social_Stratification / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Tougaloo College does well on the affordability front: the small college has a low overall price tag, yet nearly all students get significant grant aid. biology, mass communication, psychology, and sociology are among the most popular majors, and academics are supported by a 11 to 1 student / faculty ratio. The college describes itself as "church related, but not church controlled," and it has maintained a religious affiliation since it's founding in 1869. 

  • Location: Tougaloo, Mississippi
  • Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college affiliated with the United Church of Christ
  • Enrollment: 860 (843 undergraduates)
White Hall historic building, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama
White Hall at Tuskegee University. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Tuskegee University has many claims to fame: it first opened its doors under the leadership of Booker T. Washington, and famous alumni include Ralph Ellison and Lionel Richie. The university was also home to the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Today the university has notable strengths in the sciences, business, and engineering. Academics are supported by a 14 to 1 student / faculty ratio, and nearly 90% of students receive some form of grant aid.

  • Location: Tuskegee, Alabama
  • Type of Institution: Private university
  • Enrollment: 2,851 (2,393 undergraduates)

Xavier University of Louisiana

Xavier University of Louisiana
Xavier University of Louisiana. Louisiana Travel / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Xavier University of Louisiana has the distinction of being the only HCBU in the country affiliated with the Catholic Church. The university is strong in the sciences, and both biology and chemistry are popular majors. The university has a liberal arts focus, and academics are supported by a 14 to 1 student / faculty ratio.

  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Type of Institution: Private liberal arts university affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church
  • Enrollment: 2,997 (2,248 undergraduates)