There’s no experience quite like the HBCU experience.

Outside of these institutions, you'd be hard-pressed to find a plethora of Black folks learning and growing together while surrounded by tradition, fashion, Black empowerment, step shows, marching bands, football and a bevy of other customs. There’s a reason why so many HBCU graduates won't stop boasting about being HBCU graduates.

HBCUs have been the foundation for some of the country’s largest movements, including the Civil Rights Movement and several desegregation efforts, like the Greensboro sit-ins. HBCUs have produced some of the most prominent world leaders, entertainers, athletes and cultural staples. They provide world-class education, real-world experience and a place for Black students to revel in the diversity of their own culture and build incredible confidence before embarking on careers in a world that may seek to devalue them at every turn.

But HBCU graduates have borne the brunt of myths about their schools for decades, becoming soldiers for their alma maters during conversations that spew baseless claims like, “HBCUs don't prepare you for the real world” and “There’s no diversity at HBCUs.”

Alleged lack of diversity in enrollment aside, it can be exhausting to constantly have your collegiate experience invalidated by folks who just don’t know any better.

So, this Black History Month, Blavity has debunked six of the myths that continue to follow HBCUs. 

1. HBCUs don't prepare you for the real world

While it is a proven fact that institutional racism has caused some employers to overlook HBCU graduates, that does not necessarily mean these graduates are unprepared. According to Forbes, HBCUs have been credited with creating the Black American middle class. Middle-class jobs include careers in healthcare, information technology, engineering, education, and management, among countless other fields.

A U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report shows that HBCUs are responsible for 40 percent of Black Congress members, 50 percent of all Black professors at PWIs, 50 percent of all Black lawyers and 80 percent of all Black judges. Of course, HBCU graduates are not exclusive to the aforementioned fields and are ever-present in Hollywood and Wall Street, among other workforces. Xavier University of Louisiana and Howard University often co-boast the rights to being number one in getting Black students accepted to medical school, among many other HBCU industry claims to fame.

2. HBCUs struggle with accreditation

First of all, all colleges and universities struggle with accreditation. It’s a very tricky thing that requires multiple steps and procedures to stay in compliance, one of which is funding. However, the idea that HBCUs struggle with accreditation more than other colleges or universities is inherently false.

The United States Dept. of Education identifies 107 colleges and universities as HBCUs. There are 101 open and active HBCUs, according to Pew Research Center. According to the NBC News series, Colleges in Crisis, dozens of colleges and universities were forced to close just last year due to accreditation issues related to finances. There were no HBCUs included in the feature. 

The country has approximately 5,300 colleges and universities. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that more than one hundred for-profit and non-profit colleges closed from 2016 to 2018, and several larger university systems consolidated with smaller schools as a means to avoid closure. None of the listed colleges are HBCUs.

3. HBCUs are no longer relevant

HBCUs were created to educate Black students during a time of deep segregation in the United States. According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, before the establishment of HBCUs “and for many years afterward, Blacks were generally denied admission to traditionally white institutions. As a result, HBCUs became the principal means for providing postsecondary education to Black Americans.” It is from this statement of purpose, that the HBCUs are no longer relevant myth is derived, but the purpose of HBCUs is much deeper than the reason they were founded.

A study done by Gallup shows that Black students who attended HBCUs voted more favorably in all areas of well-being as opposed to Black students at PWIs. The survey, which took place in 2015, polled 520 Black graduates of HBCUs and 1,758 Black graduates of other colleges. Areas of well-being included purpose, social, financial, community and physical. For college experiences, the most disproportionate areas were related to support.

The HBCU students polled 33 percent more favorably to the statement: "My professors at my university care about me as a person." HBCU students voted 23 percent more favorably to overall support; and 19 percent more favorably to the statement: "While attending my university, I had a mentor to encourage me to pursue my goals and dreams."

Given those research findings, HBCUs remain a relevant choice for Black students because they generally feel safer, accepted and supported in a community historically dedicated to their education.

4. There is no diversity at HBCUs

Just one visit to the College of Pharmacy at Xavier University of Louisiana debunks this myth immediately, but more than just the representation of different races, read white, one must first truly understand this: There are Black people all over the world representing a bevy of ethnicities and backgrounds. That alone could make a university entirely made up of just Black folks diverse. Alas, HBCU enrollment is not exclusive to Black people, so the “lack of diversity” people allege is most definitely a myth.

A report done by the Center of Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania shows that while Black HBCU students make up about 76 percent of the student population, the other 24 percent is spread across ethnicities. According to the report, “the enrollment at HBCUs is further divided into 13 percent white students, five percent students whose race or ethnicity is unknown, three percent Latinx students, one percent Asian-American students, one percent of students who identify as biracial or multiracial and one percent of students classified as undocumented.” According to the same study, faculty and staff have a similar racial and ethnic breakdown as the aforementioned student percentages.

Removing the focus from race and ethnicity, one must also remember that demographics include other areas like age, gender, marital status, social class, political affiliation, sexual preference, religious affiliation and disabilities. Just because HBCUs may not be Black and white says nothing about the true diversity that can be found on any campus. 

5. HBCU student-athletes don't land professional sporting careers

You can take this myth to Super Bowl LV where five former HBCU footballers will be playing on Feb. 7. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers has three former HBCU players with Ryan Smith and Nick Leverett, both from North Carolina Central University and Quinton Bell from Prairieview A&M University. The Kansas City Chiefs have Alex Brown and Antonio Hamilton, both from South Carolina State University.

Historically speaking, of course, it goes deeper than just the upcoming Super Bowl. There’s also a bevy of well-known HBCU-made professional athletes, like Olympic track gold medalists the late Wilma Rudolph (Tennessee State) and Edwin Moses (Morehouse College), the late Althea Gibson (FAMU) aka the first Black American woman to win a singles tennis championship at Wimbledon, Pro Football Hall of Famers Michael Strahan (Texas Southern) and Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) and 2021 Hall of Fame nominee, the late Steve McNair (Alcorn State). And now, with NFL legend Deion Sanders as the recently named head football coach at Jackson State University, you’re likely to start seeing more former HBCU players in the NFL.

6. People who are well-to-do don’t send their children to HBCUs

The idea that people with means don’t send their children to HBCUs is still floating around today with conservative talking heads asserting that Vice President Kamala Harris chose Howard University for financial reasons. Newsflash, Howard University is considered the Mecca of all HBCUs. The yearly tuition in 1986, the year Harris graduated, was $3,045 (equivalent to today’s $6,668), which is only about $700 lower than the average tuition fees of her congressional classmates, which include Ivy League graduates. Today, tuition at Howard University is over $26,000. So, no, it's not very likely a prospective student chooses an HBCU over a PWI for financial reasons. 

But, if that doesn’t bust that myth wide open for you, there are quite a few notable folks who definitely have means and options, but still sent their children to HBCUs. Multi-threat celebrity Debbie Allen and former NBA player Norm Nixon’s son, Norm Nixon Jr. not only attended Southern University and A&M College, but he flexed in his mother’s legacy as a member of the university dance team, Gold’N Bluez. Gospel legend Yolanda Adams’ daughter, Taylor Crawford attends Howard University, as does Noelle Robinson, the daughter of former supermodel and Real Housewife Cynthia Bailey and actor Leon, as does Nathan Anderson, son of actor Anthony Anderson. Late comedian Bernie Mac sent his daughter, Je’Niece McCullough, to Xavier University of Louisiana. Vanessa Bell Calloway’s two daughters, Ally and Ashley Calloway are Spelman College graduates. Deion Sanders recruited his son Shedeur Sanders to Jackson State University. And Denzel Washington’s now-famous son, John David Washington is a graduate of Morehouse College.

Unfounded perceptions about HBCUs will likely continue to haunt these respectable institutions but we can't say we didn't at least try to spread some enlightenment on the matter.