With record donations, high-profile hires and famous alumni, HBCUs are on a roll

At a time when the nation has been grappling with its own history and how to teach students about it in the classroom, it’s no surprise that HBCUs have become a big part of the conversation.

Video transcript

KAMALA HARRIS: It is so good to be home at Howard University, and I will tell you what you all know. Howard University is a very important part of why I stand before you at this moment as the vice president of the United States of America.


$2.6 billion have gone to HBCUs like Howard University.


- Why do you continue to wear HBCU clothing? Is it coincidental that you put that on today, or did you want to put that on today?

CHRIS PAUL: [INAUDIBLE] I go to-- I'm enrolled at [INAUDIBLE]. I'm a student.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: The tradition of doctors, lawyers, professionals coming out of HBCU still, it's an amazing tradition to be a part of, and we don't need to feel that we have to get validation from these other institutions. We can come home and build our own.

TA-NEHISI COATES: HBCUs frankly, not just Howard, whether it be Morehouse, whether it be, you know, ANT, whether it be FAMU, whether it be Coppin, whether it be, you know, Morgan. We have always been--


- Don't forget Bethune-Cookman.

TA-NEHISI COATES: Bathune-Cookman, they can all [INAUDIBLE]. Let's go. I mean, the whole community [INAUDIBLE] because it's not just Howard. These have always been [INAUDIBLE] in places where one would say a more truthful, a more accurate, a more, you know, as it turns out searing version of America was rendered to a student.

- This will be the first time a historically Black college or university will acquire a non-HBCU institute.

MICHAEL LOMAX: We've had to do that ourselves. We've had to make a way educationally. And historically Black colleges were among those schools that were created after the Civil War. Some of them actually existed prior to the Civil War. For over a century and a half, they've been the primary source for higher education for African-Americans, and almost single-handedly have built a Black middle class, the Black professional class. So the Black community has known that these institutions exist. They have done that work with limited resources, little respect, and recognition and support.

You know, and this time of Black Lives Matter in this era when we are asking questions as a nation about inequality and inequity, you know, I think that it's would stand to reason that Black colleges would matter as well. And so I think there is greater attention, there's greater recognition, there's greater awareness. But let there be no confusion, Black folks knew these institutions were there, and these institutions have enabled us to rise up to get an education and to compete. I think it's really important for us to tell our story effectively. We have to change the narrative.

Our institutions are by and large, very good institutions. They're not rich institutions, and in this country if you're not rich and you're a higher education institution, you're not great. But I want to just be real clear. Historically Black colleges consistently move their graduates from low income status to middle income status, and that when we get one college graduate in our family, that college graduate pulls up the rest of the family. That's called social and economic mobility. So I think one of the things our federal government could do would be to work with UNCF on a challenge [INAUDIBLE] program for endowments at our Black colleges.

Another important thing that I think our federal government could do is to invest in the infrastructure of Black colleges, to help us renovate older buildings, to build 21st century science facilities, to get Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi. You know, because as you know, Black institutions and Black communities are Wi-Fi deserts. So there's infrastructure. So I think that's what the Federal government could do. But there's also a role for private philanthropy. And you know, I would wish, and this is my prayer to the anonymous donors who are giving so much money, is that they would spread it out a little bit more. I think it's great that a lot of money is going to a small number of very well-known HBCUs, but we need all of the HBCUs to get some of that philanthropy.

I hope one of the things that's going to happen by this bright light being shined on Howard with Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates joining the faculty is that people are actually going to learn how extraordinary those faculties have always been, how diverse those faculties have always been, and how rich the classroom and the research and the library experience has been at Howard, at Hampton, at Morehouse, at Spelman, you know, at Xavier, at Morgan State. I mean, I want people not to just know, oh yeah, Howard. I want them to know that there are 101 institutions, and all of them have great faculty and great students, but they don't have the resources that they need to have, and they should be getting more.

Not everybody will go to a Black college, not everybody maybe should go to a Black college, but I think that they should consider it, and really ask the question, where will I be treated like a whole person? Where will I be given the opportunity to develop my potential? Where will I build the confidence that will prepare me for the many battles I'm going to fight when I go off the college campus.