Women making history: Women at HBCUs

This post is one of a series of posts in observance of Women’s History Month.

Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first woman of color to become vice president, has another distinction. She is also the first graduate of a historically black college or university (HBCU) in the White House. In accepting the vice-presidential nomination, she saluted her HBCU “brothers and sisters,” calling them family. During her time at Howard University, she also became a member of the service sorority Kappa Alpha Kappa — the first intercollegiate historically African American Greek-lettered sorority. Today, there are slightly more than 100 HBCUs, and their student bodies have diversified.

Women at HBCUs show higher academic aspirations than female college students in general. One important survey — conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA since the mid-1960s — looks at the attitudes and demographic profiles of college freshmen, including freshmen at HBCUs. In 1967, UCLA asked all freshmen women and women at predominantly black institutions about their academic aspirations. Forty-four percent of all the women said the highest degree they wanted to obtain was a bachelor’s degree, 33 percent a master’s, and 6 percent a doctorate. Those responses for women freshmen at predominantly black colleges were 28 percent, 48 percent, and 18 percent respectively. In 2019, academic aspirations were higher for both groups, but more women at HBCUs than those in all baccalaureate programs expected to get a PhD.