On Tuesday, January 5, Reverend Raphael Warnock became the latest graduate of a historically Black College and University (HBCU) to win election to Congress. The Morehouse College alum won his tightly-contested United States Senate runoff race in Georgia, becoming the first Black Senator from the Peach State. Students and alumni of HBCUs hope Warnock’s win provides further evidence of the quality of education at these historic institutions
After graduating from Morehouse College in 1991, Warnock has credited his career to his education, in part to honor the fact that he was the first member of his family to graduate from college.
“I went to Morehouse College on a full faith scholarship. I didn’t know how I would pay for it but I graduated college and earned a Ph.D. degree,” said Warnock.
There are other notable politicians who have graduated from HBCUs, including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris who attended Howard University. “When you attend an HBCU, there’s nothing you can’t do,” Harris tweeted. While Harris will be moving into the second-highest political office in the country, her position as HBCU graduate and role model is shared in Congress.
Newly elected Rep. Cori Bush, the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress, attended Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, and Rep Marilyn Strickland, who attended Clark Atlanta University, will be the first Black representative from Washington state. Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate that many credit for the large Demcratic voter turnout in Georgia this year which helped elect Senator Warnock and flip the Senate for the Democratic party, attended Spelman College in Atlanta. In fact, there are 16 HBCUs noted as alma maters for members of the Congressional Black Caucus — a statistic that will change slightly as the CBC updates its roll books for the recently convened 117th Congress, which was sworn in on January 3, 2021.
here are more than 100 HBCUs across the United States, representing 3% of higher education institutions, according to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics. However, HBCUs account for more than 17% of the bachelors degrees earned by African Americans.
HBCUs create an inclusive environment for Black students to learn about their culture and have fueled social and economic mobility for many Black Americans. However, HBCU endowments are 70% smaller than predominantly white institutions.
In recent years, there have been an increase in financial and philanthropic support for HBCUs amid renewed calls for racial justice. In 2019, Robert F. Smith famously paid off the student loan debt of the entire graduating class of Morehouse College and in 2020 he launched the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) to provide a loan alternative to STEM majors attending HBCUs. In 2020, there was a $40 million donation to Morgan State University from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, marking her 27th donation to a HBCU in the past few years. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin also donated $120 million in 2020 to be split between the United Negro College Fund and HBCUs Spelman and Morehouse.
It remains to be seen what 2021 will mean for HBCUs that are still all in need of larger endowments to survive. In a challenging time where calls for racial justice and a struggling economy make raising funds even more vital for our institutions of higher education, HBCUs will need to use what political spotlight they’re given to raise their profile to preserve their future.
Learn more about how the Student Freedom Initiative supports HBCUs and their initial group of participating schools.