(RNN) - Historically black colleges and universities played an important role in the education of blacks who were largely blocked from higher education in an lengthy era of segregation, and continue to serve the needs of a growing and diverse student body today.
Historically black colleges and universities are defined as any institution of higher learning whose primary goal is the education of black Americans established before 1964.
As of the 2014 school year, nearly 300,000 students were enrolled in HBCUs, according to Department of Education statistics.
Those who have attended and graduated from the institutions have gone on to make their mark in the world and include a Pulitzer-prize journalist, a Nobel-prize winner writer, business leaders, politicians and entertainers.
Though most HBCUs are located inthe South, there are currently 105 HBCUs in 19 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands.
HBCUs have a higher success rate in graduating black students than other schools, according to a study by The Education Trust - 37.8 percent, compared with 32.0 percent for non-HBCUs.
Over time, HBCUs have become more diverse, with non-black students making up 21 percent of enrollment in 2014, compared with 15 percent in 1976, according to Department of Education data.
Black women earned more than 60 percent of degrees bestowed at HBCUs since 1990.
Graduates of Prairie View A&M University in Texas make the highest average starting salary of HBCU graduates, with an average of $50,000, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned segregation in public places, including universities, though in some isolated cases blacks were permitted to attend colleges before the establishment of HBCUs.
For instance, John Chavis, a Presbyterian minister, attended what is now Washington and Lee University in Virginia in 1799, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education noted.
Alexander Lucius Twilight became the first black in the U.S. to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1823.
The first HBCU, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania was established in the 1830s, and in the 1860s, creation of the universities accelerated thanks to land grant college provisions enacted by Congress.
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