On Tuesday, Philander Smith College officially became Philander Smith University, marking a significant transition for the institution. It has become the second HBCU in Arkansas, next to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“That one word means that we’re moving forward,” Cynthia A. Bond Hopson, Philander Smith University interim president and CEO, said. “It means we’re offering a different level of excellence.”

Since it opened in 1877, Philander Smith University has offered 20 majors and has an enrollment of about 1,000 students. According to the school’s official website, it was one of the first institutions west of the Mississippi River to educate newly freed Black Americans

“Philander Smith was founded by those who encouraged ‘dare to dream,'” Shannon Clowney Johnson, Philander Smith University vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer, said. “Their mission [was] to provide formal higher education to train preachers and teachers.”


The first step toward this newly acquired status came in 2015 when Philander Smith’s Board of Trustees approved a plan for the transition. Last fall, the institution received approval to offer its first graduate program, a master’s in business administration. The final step was approval by the Higher Learning Commission to move forward with officially being recognized as a university.

Philander Smith University is exploring other master’s degree programs besides the newly introduced MBA. New undergraduate programs are also in the works.

“We are absolutely ready to move forward and conquer the rest of the world,” Hopson said.