Tuskegee University

In February 1926, America celebrated its first annual Negro History Week. The idea came from historian Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and the week celebrated the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. For the next 50 years, the tradition continued as a way to honor African-Americans’ contributions to society.

The celebration was expanded into a month-long event called Black History Month in 1976 under President Gerald Ford, who urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The history of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) dates back to the 19th century. The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principle mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.” Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1837, was the nation’s first HBCU, and most of the colleges were founded after the American Civil War. Today, there are 100 HBCUs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, each with its own rich and unique history.

In honor of Black History Month, StartClass ranked the top 25 HBCUs in the country. Schools are ranked according to their Smart Rating, which is a comprehensive score designed to evaluate a college’s overall effectiveness. The Smart Rating is based on five main factors — financial affordability, career readiness, admissions selectivity, expert opinion and academic excellence. We used the most recent data from the NCES in our Smart Rating calculations.

#25. Southern University at New Orleans

Smart Rating: 59.4

Southern University at New Orleans was founded in 1956, making it one of the newest HBCUs in the country. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the entire campus was flooded with water, and the school temporarily relocated to Boca Raton, Fla.

Upon returning to New Orleans in February 2006, students took classes that were held in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The last of the FEMA trailers were removed in June 2014.

#24. Fort Valley State University

Smart Rating: 59.7

Fort Valley State University began as Fort Valley High and Industrial School in 1895. The school expanded throughout the years and, in 1939, merged with the State Teachers and Agricultural College of Forsyth under the name Fort Valley State College.

#23. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Smart Rating: 60.3

Florida A&M was founded as the State Normal College for Colored Students on Oct. 3, 1887, with only 15 students and two instructors. The school is the only HBCU in the 11-member State University System of Florida.

#22. Tuskegee University

Smart Rating: 60.4

Founded on July 4, 1881, Tuskegee University considers itself “the pride of the swift, growing south.” The school was founded by Booker T. Washington, who served as Tuskegee’s principal from its first years until his death in 1915.

#21. Bluefield State College

Smart Rating: 61.7

Bluefield State College began as the Bluefield Colored Institute, a “high graded school for Negroes,” in 1895. The school developed into a black teachers college in 1909 and integrated in 1954. Bluefield had its own comprehensive four-year programs for teacher education, arts and sciences, and engineering technology by the 1960s, and also offers various two-year technical programs.

#20. Coppin State University

Smart Rating: 61.8

Coppin State was founded in 1900 as a high school that included a one-year training course for African-American elementary school teachers. The program expanded to a two-year Normal Department by 1902, and by 1909 the teacher training school separated from the high school.

The school’s curriculum was extended to four years in 1938, and in 1963 it was no longer restricted to teacher education. Coppin State conferred its first Bachelor of Arts degree in 1967.

#19. Delaware State University

Smart Rating: 62.7

Delaware State University was established on May 15, 1891, as the State College for Colored Students. The school originally offered five courses of study: agricultural, chemical, classical, engineering and scientific. The College became Delaware State College in 1947 and adopted its current name in 1993.

#18. Mississippi Valley State University

Smart Rating: 62.9

Mississippi Valley State held its groundbreaking ceremony on Feb. 19, 1950, under the name Mississippi Vocational College. The school had 14 regular students and seven faculty members in its first academic year, and offered Bachelor of Science degrees in 14 areas. The college changed its name to Mississippi Valley State College in 1964 and was given its current name on March 15, 1974.

#17. North Carolina A&T State University

Smart Rating: 63.5

North Carolina A&T State was founded in 1891 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race. The school was elevated to university status in 1967 and became a constituent university of the University of North Carolina in 1972.

#16. Fisk University

Smart Rating: 63.6

Fisk University was established just six months after the end of the Civil War. It was named in honor of General Clinton B. Fisk of the Union Army, who provided the school with barracks in which the first classes were held. The first students ranged from ages seven to 70, but all found common ground in the pursuit of an education.

#15. Winston-Salem State University

Smart Rating: 64.8

Winston-Salem State University was founded in 1892 as the Slater Industrial Academy, with 25 students and one teacher. In 1925, it became the first African-American institution in America to grant elementary education teaching degrees. The school adopted its current name in 1969.

#14. Morehouse College

Smart Rating: 65.3

Morehouse was established as the Augusta Institute in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War. The school was renamed Morehouse College in 1913 in honor of Henry L. Morehouse, who served as the corresponding secretary of the Northern baptist Home Mission Society. Notable alumni include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson.

#13. Albany State University

Smart Rating: 65.3

Albany State University was founded in 1903 as the Albany Bible and Manual Training Institute. It is one of three HBCUs in the University System of Georgia and is a member of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which is a non-profit organization with 47 member-schools.

#12. North Carolina Central University

Smart Rating: 66.5

Dr. James E. Shepard, a North Carolina pharmacist, founded the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race in 1910. Its stated purpose was to foster “the development in young men and women of the character and sound academic training requisite for real service to the nation.” In 1925, the school became the nation’s first state-supported liberal arts college for black students. It changed its name to North Carolina College at Durham in 1947 and adopted its current name in 1969.

#11. Prairie View A&M University

Smart Rating: 68.3

Founded in 1876, Prairie View A&M was the first state-supported college in Texas for African-Americans. It was originally part of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, and was not granted its status as an independent unit of the Texas A&M University System until Aug. 27, 1973, upon which it adopted its current name.

#10. Rust College

Smart Rating: 69.0

Rust College was established in 1866 by the Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. It was chartered as Shaw University in 1870 in honor of Reverend S.O. Shaw, who gave a $10,000 donation to the school. In 1892, the school changed its name to Rust University to avoid confusion with Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., and it adopted its current name in 1915.

#9. Philander Smith College

Smart Rating: 70.7

Originally known as the Walden Seminary, Philander Smith College was founded in 1877 with the goal of educating freed slaves west of the Mississippi River. The school changed to its current name in 1882 after receiving a $10,500 gift from Adeline Smith, the widow of Philander Smith. The college was granted four-year status on March 3, 1883, and its first baccalaureate degree was conferred in 1888.

#8. Lincoln University

Smart Rating: 71.7

Founded in 1854 as the Ashmun Institute, Lincoln University was the country’s first degree-granting HBCU. The school was renamed for Abraham Lincoln in 1866, not long after the president’s assassination. Lincoln University amended its charter in 1953 to permit the granting of degrees to women, and in 1972 it was formally recognized as a coeducational university.

#7. Elizabeth City State University

Smart Rating: 78.3

Established on March 3, 1891, Elizabeth City State University was founded by Hugh Cale in Northeastern North Carolina. The school was elevated from a two-year institution to a four-year teachers college in 1937. Today, Elizabeth City State University offers 28 undergraduate and four graduate programs.

#6. Tougaloo College

Smart Rating: 79.2

Tougaloo College is a private school that was founded in 1869. It was established by New York-based Christian missionaries as a means to educate young people “irrespective of religious tenets and conducted on the most liberal principles for the benefit of our citizens in general.” The school was given the name Tougaloo University in 1871 and changed to its current title in 1916.

#5. Florida Memorial University

Smart Rating: 79.3

Florida Memorial University is a private, Baptist-affiliated school located in southern Florida. Founded in 1879 as the Florida Baptist Institute, the school is the only HBCU in South Florida and one of the oldest academic centers in the state.

#4. Xavier University of Louisiana

Smart Rating: 91.8

Xavier University of Louisiana was established in 1925 in Baton Rouge, La., and moved to its current location in New Orleans in 1931. The school was founded by Saint Katherine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and is the only Catholic HBCU in the country.

#3. Spelman College

Smart Rating: 92.11

Spelman College is a liberal arts women’s college that was founded in 1881. It was originally founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles. The school has the distinction as the nation’s oldest HBCU for women.

#2. Howard University

Smart Rating: 92.18

Howard University was founded in 1867 and has long been considered one of the most prestigious HBCUs in the country. With over 100 different majors available, the school considers itself the “only truly comprehensive predominantly Black university.”

#1. Hampton University

Smart Rating: 92.24

Founded in 1868, Hampton University is a private college located in southeastern Virginia. The school traces its origins back to 1861, when escaped slaves fled to Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va. After Union Major General Benjamin Butler ensured they would not be returned to slavery, Mary Peake, a freed black woman, taught the group of runaways under what’s now known as the Emancipation Oak.

This makeshift school evolved over the years, and on April 1, 1868, Brigadier General Samuel Armstrong opened the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute with the purpose “to train selected Negro youth who should go out and teach and lead their people first by example.” Hampton was known as the Hampton Institute in 1930 and adopted its current name in 1984.