By Kenneth Terrell
April 12, 2016

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Essence magazine.

ESSENCE partnered with MONEY magazine to create this one-of-a kind list. Drawing on federal data that MONEY compiles for its annual Best Colleges rankings—including graduation rates, net college costs after financial aid, and graduates’ early-career earnings—plus our own criteria for racial climate on each campus, we found that these schools provide African-American students with the best combination of the following:

  1. Representation. African Americans had to make up at least 5% of each college’s total student body.
  2. Affordability. We measured the price students pay after aid is subtracted and factored in the average loan debt they take on. While the rankings are partly based on the net prices paid by low-income students, the net price estimate listed for each school below is an estimate of typical price charged (the sticker price minus only institutional aid) to in-state students adjusted for inflation and the average length of time it takes students at that school to earn a degree, which is often more than four years. So if you qualify for federal or state grants, or finish in four years, then price you pay will likely be much lower.
  3. Post-graduate earnings. We combined MONEY’s data on graduation rates with a Georgetown University analysis of colleges that provide unusually high-earning graduates, after accounting for the racial, academic and socioeconomic background of their student bodies.

The result is a mix of schools for different kinds of students. Some, such as Princeton, have comparatively fewer Black students but extremely generous financial aid and financially successful alumni. Others, such as North Carolina A&T, provide opportunities to many more African-American students and have high graduation rates. And in a year marked by #blackoncampus protests, we incorporated the voices of both students and faculty who spoke about their lived experiences at these schools.


1. Princeton University

6%Percent of African American students
93%Graduation rate for African Americans
$162,007Estimated net price of a degree
$6,810Average student debt load

“There’s so much diversity here,” says Allie Burton, 20, a junior majoring in computer science. Students have the opportunity to learn from Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize–winning professors, and its alumni—including First Lady Michelle Obama and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—have gone on to influential careers.

What’s more, in 2001, the New Jersey institution began offering financial aid packages with grant money from the university to replace the amount families would have had to borrow in student loans. Black students sometimes will have to navigate challenges that come with being in such a prominent institution. Last fall, the student group Black Justice League held a sit-in in the main office building, asking that the university make the campus more welcoming. Princeton quickly responded by creating a committee to assess the students’ demands, a move that suggests an environment willing to evolve along with its students’ needs.

2. Harvard University

5%Percent of African American students
96%Graduation rate for African Americans
$176,000Estimated net price of a degree
$6,000Average student debt load

Harvard is where talented Black students go to succeed: 96% of the Black students who enroll earn a bachelor’s degree. The Cambridge, Massachusetts, school is also where Black students can learn to be leaders. Two years ago, some of them turned to social media, creating the I, Too, Am Harvard campaign to express concerns they had about life on campus. “This is not an anti-Harvard campaign,” Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, the student who organized the project, told reporters at the time. “It’s us raising our voices and trying to change Harvard for the better.” Indeed, the experiences captured in the project rippled across the nation, inspiring students at other highly selective campuses to offer their own versions.

3. Duke University

7%Percent of African American students
92%Graduation rate for African Americans
$213,000Estimated net price of a degree
$6,500Average student debt load

“Even though the Black community at Duke was small, it had some of the most brilliant and fascinating people I had ever met,” says student Edom Tilahun, 19, about why she chose the university after visiting. “They were very engaged in their community and had productive conversations to solve issues on campus and a balanced social life. It was everything I could ask for in a college.” Among the research universities that are most selective, Duke, based in Durham, North Carolina, has a high percentage of Black students in its undergraduate population, comprising 10% of the students there.

4. Cornell University

5%Percent of African American students
88%Graduation rate for African Americans
$216,200Estimated net price of a degree
$12,000Average student debt load

Nestled among the gorges of Ithaca, New York, Cornell University has a long history of having progressive Black people inhabit its space. In 1906, seven Black men founded Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the first Black intercollegiate fraternity, on Cornell’s campus. Further, the school’s Ujamaa Residential College, a dormitory/learning community that Black students can choose to live in, helps these scholars overcome homesickness. “It was a huge culture shock to come here and then be so isolated,” says Noelani Gabriel, 21, a senior majoring in Africana studies. But Gabriel says she was able to find a sense of community in Ujamaa Residential College. “I knew that if I needed anything—if I was in trouble, if I was hungry—these people would have my back.”

5. Florida A&M University

87%Percent of African American students
39%Graduation rate for African Americans
$94,000Estimated net price of a degree
$27,300Average student debt load

With more than 10,000 students, FAMU is one of the largest HBCUs. Even more impressive is the fact that though nearly 92% of the student body comes from lower-income backgrounds, the average salary graduates earn is $45,000. This placed FAMU third in the nation in a ranking of social mobility.

6. Spelman College

87%Percent of African American students
75%Graduation rate for African Americans
$172,000Estimated net price of a degree
$27,000Average student debt load

Spelman’s reputation as one of the best colleges for Black women has been heralded since its inception in 1881. According to one analysis, Spelman is producing just as many Black female founders of tech start-ups as prominent universities such as Stanford. “I often hear that there are not enough African-Americans interested in computer science,” said Mya Havard, 21, a junior who is majoring in mathematics. “At Spelman, where there is an all-Black hackathon and robotics team, I never feel discouraged to pursue a degree in a field where society says I might not belong.”

7. University of Pennsylvania

6%Percent of African American students
94%Graduation rate for African Americans
$207,000Estimated net price of a degree
$21,500Average student debt load

“The Black community and its impact on the university surprised me the most about Penn,” says Christy Charnel, 20, a freshman who transferred to the university last fall. “I did not realize they had such a strong voice on campus and it has definitely made my experience thus far worthwhile. Also, the fact that the university is the top in the nation for nursing, which is my major, made it an even better choice.”

8. Yale University

5%Percent of African American students
92%Graduation rate for African Americans
$196,500Estimated net price of a degree
$12,000Average student debt load

Among the Ivy League institutions, Yale is considered to be the most appealing for students with interests in the arts. Most notably, its graduate programs in acting and theater have produced thespians such as Angela Bassett and Lupita Nyong’o. And though its academic programs are stellar, the New Haven, Connecticut–based school found itself at the forefront of protests over racial issues on campus sparked by two Halloween-related incidents. The administration responded to student demands with plans to hire more faculty from different backgrounds, increase funding for cultural centers and hold a number of conferences about diversity.

9. North Carolina A&T State University

80%Percent of African American students
49%Graduation rate for African Americans
$77,800Estimated net price of a degree
$23,000Average student debt load

NC A&T is on the rise. In 2014 it became the nation’s largest HBCU in terms of the number of students enrolled. That surge of student interest has continued. The reason? Academic excellence, especially in the sciences: In 2015, for the sixth year in a row, A&T produced the nation’s leading number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering among African-American students.

10. University of Maryland, College Park

11%Percent of African American students
77%Graduation rate for African Americans
$96,300Estimated net price of a degree
$19,500Average student debt load

“I like the independence that I have here at school,” says Madison Moore, 21, an anthropology major. “I have my dance community, which overlaps with my Jamaican community, and so on. There is also a great sense of community between all students of color, but we are not forced to stay within those specific groups.”

11. Columbia University

5%Percent of African American students
90%Graduation rate for African Americans
$214,600Estimated net price of a degree
$19,400Average student debt load

As the alma mater of President Barack Obama, CU might be able to lay claim to perhaps the most prominent Black alumnus in the nation. According to Insights Into Diversity, the university has spent more than $85 million on increasing diversity in its faculty over the past ten years and received industry awards for its efforts. Adjacent to the legendary neighborhood of Harlem, Columbia combines a world-class academic environment with all the opportunities that Manhattan has to offer.

12. Georgia Institute of Technology

6%Percent of African American students
77%Graduation rate for African Americans
$115,300Estimated net price of a degree
$22,700Average student debt load

“I chose Georgia Tech twice: first as an undergrad some 30 years ago and second as a faculty member some 13 years ago,” says Charles L. Isbell, 46, who is senior associate dean for the School of Interactive Computing there. “In both cases, I was attracted to GT’s reputation in my chosen field and its embrace of breadth and diversity.” Both students and faculty at Georgia Tech describe an atmosphere that is rigorous and busy, but also fueled by an urge for innovation and entrepreneurship. “Minority-focused communities are there for you, and they all ultimately want to help you reach your highest potential,” says 24-year-old Jasmine Burton, a 2014 graduate who moved to Zambia to progress her health start-up. “Fundamentally, Georgia Tech helps you to understand just how much you can accomplish when you are pushed,” Isbell says.

13. Georgetown University

6%Percent of African American students
91%Graduation rate for African Americans
$223,400Estimated net price of a degree
$17,500Average student debt load

Georgetown offers an education rooted in Catholic values of inclusion. Last fall 250 students protested, demanding that the D.C. school rename two buildings on its campus named after former university presidents, one of whom authorized the sale of 272 slaves to a plantation in Louisiana to finance the university’s growth. Administrators changed the buildings to Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall temporarily until permanent names are selected. “As a university,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia wrote, “we are a place where conversations are convened and dialogue is encouraged, even on topics that may
be difficult.”

14. University of Florida

6%Percent of African American students
79%Graduation rate for African Americans
$90,700Estimated net price of a degree
$15,100Average student debt load

“You can’t make a small school big, but you can always make a large school small,” is how 20-year-old Miriam Brown sells UF to the prospective students she meets. “From the moment I stepped onto campus, I felt very welcomed and at home.” With more than 32,000 undergraduate students—6% of whom are Black—the Gainesville institution is one of the larger colleges in the nation. But the university appears to work to respond to the needs of students. “I’ve been a part of creating courses and academic programs to meet a specific need of a student population,” says Thomasenia Lott Adams, 51, who is a professor and an associate dean for the College of Education. Still, fitting in at Florida is not without obstacles. Adams says, “Whether on campus or off campus, I think it is important for a person to feel a sense of home. That can be difficult for some people to accomplish. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do that, and it’s what keeps me here.”

15. Hampton University

89%Percent of African American students
67%Graduation rate for African Americans
$145,500Estimated net price of a degree
$27,500Average student debt load

An academic leader among HBCUs, Hampton continues to champion excellence in its students. This spring the Virginia university became the first HBCU to field a men’s lacrosse program that competes at the NCAA’s highest level. It also recently added its first officially recognized group for LGBTQ students, which is named MOSAIC (Motivating Open-minded Social Acceptance and Inspiring Change). “Hopefully now more young Black men and women will feel more comfortable to apply and attend HBCUs that have embraced the concept of inclusion and equity,” wrote Elijah Levon, a recent grad and founder of the LGBTQ group. “I am proud to say I am a Hampton man.”

16. Bowie State University

83%Percent of African American students
33%Graduation rate for African Americans
$102,000Estimated net price of a degree
$23,300Average student debt load

When it comes to colleges that help their graduates move into well-paid careers, Bowie State is proving to be one of the best values in the nation. In addition to its place on our list, this Maryland university finished 61 out of 1,275 schools that The Economist ranked based on how much their graduates earned. Bowie’s alumni brought in around $6,000 more per year than what they were likely to have earned had they attended a different college.

17. Wellesley College

6%Percent of African American students
95%Graduation rate for African Americans
$178,400Estimated net price of a degree
$8,200Average student debt load

This women’s college in Massachusetts has long been committed to training women for roles that help shape the world, counting Johnson Publishing Co. CEO and former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers among its alumnae. In February, Wellesley named Harvard Medical School professor Paula A. Johnson as its fourteenth president: She is the first Black woman to serve in that role. Wellesley also maintains an exchange program with Spelman College, giving students in their junior or senior year the opportunity to study at the HBCU while also bringing Spelman students to Wellesley.

18. Berea College

15%Percent of African American students
62%Graduation rate for African Americans
$49,600Estimated net price of a degree
$5,700Average student debt load

The price of tuition is increasing steadily at many colleges across the nation. But students at Kentucky’s Berea don’t have to worry about that: The college offers every student it enrolls a “No-Tuition Promise.” In exchange for studying in its affordable academic programs, Berea requires students to make some effort outside the classroom. “All students have to work in a position on campus that can either fit their major or just be something they are interested in,” says Leah Thompson, 20, who is majoring in psychology. Balancing course loads with the work requirement can be tricky, but pays off in the job skills acquired with little or no student loan debt.

19. Amherst College

12%Percent of African American students
88%Graduation rate for African Americans
$173,500Estimated net price of a degree
$11,200Average student debt load

According to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the Massachusetts school boasts the highest percentage of Black first-year students among highly ranked liberal arts colleges—just over 18% for those who started last fall. Still, like several other selective colleges, Amherst has experienced its share of flare-ups regarding issues of race and cultural sensitivity, such as the debate over “Lord Jeff,” the school’s unofficial mascot. Named for Lord Jeffery Amherst, the mascot’s presence on campus proved for some to be a dark reminder of the deeds of the colonial military commander who supported giving smallpox blankets to Native Americans in the eighteenth century. Following protests last fall, the college opted to banish the character from campus.

20. Virginia State University

85%Percent of African American students
43%Graduation rate for African Americans
$102,300Estimated net price of a degree
$28,500Average student debt load

Whether it’s high ranking for programs in criminal justice and animation or it’s recognition for the academic excellence of student–athletes, Virginia State is a public university that has great opportunities for students across the board. The school developed an emphasis on entrepreneurship and workforce development
for all students.

21. Xavier University of Louisiana

70%Percent of African American students
43%Graduation rate for African Americans
$111,800Estimated net price of a degree
$27,000Average student debt load

Xavier University of Louisiana’s reputation as the college that has the highest number of Black students both to enroll and graduate from medical school is a point of pride across the campus. In fact, the school excels at educating its students in many of the STEM disciplines. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the university has healed quickly and is making its own contributions to the rebirth of the region, as many students hail from either the city of New Orleans or the state of Louisiana.

22. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

8%Percent of African American students
84%Graduation rate for African Americans
$92,100Estimated net price of a degree
$15,900Average student debt load

Laying claim as the first public university in the nation to award degrees in the eighteenth century, UNC Chapel Hill has a long history of delivering academic excellence while still being affordable for most students. Its Carolina Covenant program gives students from low-income families the opportunity to graduate debt-free, and The New York Times recognized the school as one of the most economically diverse colleges in the nation.

23. Rice University

5%Percent of African American students
90%Graduation rate for African Americans
$172,700Estimated net price of a degree
$8,400Average student debt load

In 2009 Raymond Johnson—the first Black person to graduate from Rice, a Houston school with a strong academic reputation—returned to the campus as a mathematics professor, decades after he earned his degree in 1969. “I hope one of the things I can teach is that Black students can succeed here,” said Johnson at that time. “If they’re qualified, they come in and they work hard, they’ll complete the degree.”

24. Vanderbilt University

7%Percent of African American students
89%Graduation rate for African Americans
$170,200Estimated net price of a degree
$13,700Average student debt load

Situated on a scenic campus in Nashville, Vanderbilt University enrolled Black undergraduate students for the first time in 1964, though it did admit several Black men into some of its programs starting in 1953. Among the research the school has recently produced are studies of the stress Black students feel on predominantly White college campuses. The apparent racial biases in elementary schools that keep Black students from being placed in classes for gifted and talented students were also highlighted.

25. Brown University

6%Percent of African American students
99%Graduation rate for African Americans
$207,100Estimated net price of a degree
$16,000Average student debt load

Last fall Rhode Island’s Brown experienced multiple protests on campus, as its Black students and others expressed their solidarity with the #blackoncampus protesters at the University of Missouri, Yale and other schools across the nation. Brown promptly announced a plan to commit more than $100 million over the next decade toward improving the racial climate on campus. The move suits Brown’s reputation as one of the most liberal of the Ivy League universities. The new initiative seeks to increase the number of minority faculty members and improve student support services.

25. University of Richmond

6%Percent of African American students
95%Graduation rate for African Americans
$187,600Estimated net price of a degree
$19,500Average student debt load

This private liberal arts university in Virginia, just 90 miles outside of Washington, D.C., offers a big boost to students who attend. According to our data, Richmond students earn $18,000 per year more after attending the university than they likely would have earned otherwise. And though the population of Black students on campus is 8%, the university makes efforts to ensure they feel welcome on campus. Each year it holds a Connecting Women of Color Conference, which is designed to offer support to female students on campus while also making the university community more aware of the challenges these students face.

27. Dartmouth College

5%Percent of African American students
86%Graduation rate for African Americans
$207,700Estimated net price of a degree
$11,600Average student debt load

Even among the Ivy League universities, Dartmouth is highly regarded for its focus on undergraduate education. And for a New Hampshire college with a small undergraduate enrollment of just over 6,200 students, the university is producing prominent alumni. According to My San Antonio, with seven graduates currently serving in Congress, Dartmouth placed fourth among universities with legislators working on Capitol Hill, far ahead of other prestigious universities that are much larger.

28. Howard University

86%Percent of African American students
60%Graduation rate for African Americans
$141,500Estimated net price of a degree
$27,000Average student debt load

Like several HBCUs, Howard has faced some financial hurdles in recent years, but its academic reputation, and the commitment of its alumni, have never waned. Now there are signs that a financial turnaround might be on the horizon, as the university looks to benefit from the economic boom in the neighborhoods surrounding its Washington, D.C., campus. Howard recently announced a deal that will earn the university $22 million by leasing a former dormitory into redevelopment as luxury apartments. “This is really for us to find ways to find capital to reinvest in the university’s mission,” a Howard vice-president said of the deal.

29. University of Virginia

6%Percent of African American students
86%Graduation rate for African Americans
$101,900Estimated net price of a degree
$19,500Average student debt load

One of a dozen or so universities across the nation that have been dubbed a “public Ivy” by experts, UVA provides a top-flight academic environment while offering affordable tuition—especially to residents of Virginia. The campus has been shaken most notably by the violent off-campus arrest last spring of Black student Martese Johnson, after he was denied entry to a bar in the town near campus because he was underage. (The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control later dropped charges against Johnson.) The university president expressed his concern about the incident, asking the governor of Virginia to open an investigation into the incident.

30. Davidson College

6%Percent of African American students
97%Graduation rate for African Americans
$181,100Estimated net price of a degree
$16,700Average student debt load

“The most challenging part of Davidson is trying not to become too overwhelmed with just how much opportunity there is here on campus to try new things,” says Ben Callinder, 23, who is majoring in political science and economics. “My freshman year I got so involved in so many things that I didn’t have the time to sit and just process the magnitude of the new experiences that I was having, especially considering I was a Black male from New York living in the South for the first time.” Callinder adapted, though, saying of the North Carolina school, “Four years later, I have not a single regret. Davidson has taught me more about myself as an individual than the sum of my experiences before coming to this institution.”

31. The College of William & Mary

7%Percent of African American students
86%Graduation rate for African Americans
$122,300Estimated net price of a degree
$20,800Average student debt load

This Virginia school is a special find because it provides the academic benefits of a top liberal arts college while also being quite affordable as a public university. Its programs in business and accounting are especially highly regarded.

32. Alcorn State University

93%Percent of African American students
40%Graduation rate for African Americans
$95,600Estimated net price of a degree
$27,900Average student debt load

Founded in 1871, Alcorn State became the nation’s first historically Black public land-grant university. Its School of Education and Psychology is particularly strong, making it the first HBCU to earn accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). There are plenty of activities at the Mississippi-based Alcorn, too: The social life ranges from rooting for the 2015 division champion Braves football team to swinging at the annual university-sponsored jazz music festival.

33. Williams College

7%Percent of African American students
83%Graduation rate for African Americans
$200,600Estimated net price of a degree
$12,500Average student debt load

Though it is a highly selective, small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, Williams has shown a big commitment to recruiting students who are minorities or who come from low-income backgrounds. Through its partnership with the QuestBridge program—a nonprofit organization that helps disadvantaged candidates apply to college—Williams has attracted more than 250 such students to its campus in the past eight years.

34. Trinity Washington University

67%Percent of African American students
44%Graduation rate for African Americans
$123,200Estimated net price of a degree
$30,400Average student debt load

This Washington, D.C., university is deeply committed to helping students from all backgrounds and income levels have the chance to earn a degree. Trinity is one of the universities in the nation that welcomes students who are undocumented immigrants to apply and enroll, partnering with TheDream.US scholarship program to help them pay for their studies.

35. Jackson State University

89%Percent of African American students
43%Graduation rate for African Americans
$84,700Estimated net price of a degree
$31,000Average student debt load

Last fall JSU officially launched its School of Journalism and Media Studies. Students can sharpen their skills at two television stations, a radio station and an affiliate, a weekly student newspaper and a student-produced magazine. In 2013 JSU opened an additional campus to help boost its enrollment, hoping to draw in more talented applicants to its campus.

36. Johns Hopkins University

7%Percent of African American students
86%Graduation rate for African Americans
$209,300Estimated net price of a degree
$18,500Average student debt load

As the largest employer in the city of Baltimore, Johns Hopkins’ impact on the community extends far beyond the superior education it offers its students. One example is a recently launched initiative in which the university partnered with the city’s police department to explore how data can be used to reduce violence in the city.

37. Elizabeth City State University

73%Percent of African American students
39%Graduation rate for African Americans
$62,300Estimated net price of a degree
$24,900Average student debt load

Looking to get a valuable degree in accounting at an affordable price? ECSU’s undergraduate accounting program was recently selected as one of the best in the nation by Accounting Degree Review. It was thirteenth overall on the “30 Most Affordable Undergraduate Accounting Programs 2016” list, making it the highest ranking for an HBCU. But while providing a strong education to its students, the North Carolina institution has faced significant challenges in recent years, such as declines in enrollment and financial struggles. ECSU recently partnered with East Carolina University, a combination intended to provide students with additional support.

38. Prairie View A&M University

84%Percent of African American students
37%Graduation rate for African Americans
$91,700Estimated net price of a degree
$29,100Average student debt load

Prairie View was thrust into the national Black Lives Matter movement last summer when Sandra Bland, an alumna who’d recently returned to the school for a new job, died in a nearby jail cell where she had been kept for three days following what began as a routine traffic stop. The tragedy shone a spotlight on the sometimes tense relationships students feel between the college and the surrounding community. Still the university itself has thrived in recent years—a period when many other HBCUs have struggled—because it is part of the Texas A&M University system. On campus, that translates into a strong honor’s program and opportunities for students to study abroad in China.

39. Pomona College

7%Percent of African American students
92%Graduation rate for African Americans
$183,200Estimated net price of a degree
$8,600Average student debt load

This small liberal arts college outside of Los Angeles finished in first place in a Forbes ranking of colleges and universities. And Pomona’s academic strengths are bolstered by its partnership with six other nearby colleges that lets its students expand their learning opportunities, both inside and outside the classroom.

40. Northwestern University

5%Percent of African American students
93%Graduation rate for African Americans
$217,200Estimated net price of a degree
$19,200Average student debt load

Access to downtown Chicago via the El train is just one of the benefits that Northwestern offers. Others include a world-renowned program in journalism and an equally influential program in theater and the performing arts. The university also has renewed its efforts to enroll more Black students: The class of 2016 had the highest percentage of Black students at the university in 23 years.

41. Binghamton University

5%Percent of African American students
80%Graduation rate for African Americans
$104,000Estimated net price of a degree
$20,500Average student debt load

Binghamton, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, offers one of the best bargains in higher education, with affordable tuition and high-quality instruction. It also offers a fairly diverse campus: 28.9% of its population is composed of students of color. Though Black undergrads comprise 5% of that total, the university is making efforts to help them succeed. Of particular note is the Educational Opportunity Program, which offers students from disadvantaged backgrounds academic supports like a summer program that helps them prepare for freshman year. “It was in this program that I studied, laughed and cried…with four of the people I will now cherish as siblings for the rest of my life,” says Nayemai-Isis Mcintosh Green, a 21-year-old senior from Brooklyn.

42. Emory University

5%Percent of African American students
80%Graduation rate for African Americans
$104,000Estimated net price of a degree
$20,500Average student debt load

While charitable donations of land and funding from the family behind the Coca-Cola fortune helped Emory grow in 1915, last year this Atlanta university received more than $500 million in funding for its research. Its medical clinic and hospital are particularly highly regarded, having researched potential vaccines for Ebola patients and treating an infected patient in 2014.

43. North Carolina Central University

76%Percent of African American students
48%Graduation rate for African Americans
$84,900Estimated net price of a degree
$30,200Average student debt load

When it was founded in 1909, North Carolina Central University became the first liberal arts college in the nation dedicated to the education of African-Americans. Since then, it has expanded to include a top law school and a jazz program. NCCU students are also committed to making a difference outside the classroom: All are required to volunteer for at least 120 hours of community service to graduate.

44. Tennessee State University

64%Percent of African American students
42%Graduation rate for African Americans
$90,300Estimated net price of a degree
$28,500Average student debt load

Looking for an HBCU with an international student body and options to study abroad? TSU’s Office of Diversity and International Affairs has helped the university host almost 1,000 international students. Its study abroad program has also exploded, going from 36 students in 2012 to more than 120 in three years.

45. Towson University

16%Percent of African American students
67%Graduation rate for African Americans
$104,900Estimated net price of a degree
$19,000Average student debt load

“As an African-American male, I can honestly say I feel I have been afforded the same opportunities as every other student on this campus,” says Jamal Washington, 21, a senior who is majoring in business administration at this Maryland university. Washington is also chief of staff of the executive board of the Student Government Association and was the 2015 homecoming king. “This university puts a major emphasis on rewarding students who work hard and seek to make positive change, regardless of skin color, sexual identity or religious belief. Now, I’m not saying everything is perfect and there isn’t room for improvement, but I feel Towson University does everything in its power to equip all its students with the necessary tools to thrive not only while at Towson, but in the real world as well.”

46. Stony Brook University

6%Percent of African American students
75%Graduation rate for African Americans
$96,800Estimated net price of a degree
$20,200Average student debt load

“I have seen so much growth since I began working at Stony Brook in 1994,” says Cheryl Hamilton, 49, an assistant provost at the university. “I love working here because the university is so progressive and is constantly building and growing in response to, and in anticipation of, the needs of the university community.” Students also can find support among classmates from similar backgrounds at the New York institution. “I feel at home here, and I feel like I see a lot of people who understand me and come from same backgrounds as me,” says Jonathan Conyers, 21, a junior at the school.

47. Barnard College

7%Percent of African American students
91%Graduation rate for African Americans
$209,600Estimated net price of a degree
$17,500Average student debt load

Since 1889 New York City’s Barnard has been one of the most prestigious women’s colleges in the U.S., and it continues to flourish today when other single-sex institutions are opting to either go co-ed or shutter their doors. Barnard is set to add a new state-of-the-art teaching and learning center in 2018 and to increase its work to educate undergrad students in STEM disciplines.

48. Winston-Salem State University

69%Percent of African American students
46%Graduation rate for African Americans
$80,100Estimated net price of a degree
$27,700Average student debt load

With a campus motto of “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” Winston-Salem is an HBCU that has a deep commitment to contributing to the community, whether through opening a food pantry on campus to help students who might be struggling to afford meals to working to produce more graduates who can improve the diversity of employees in North Carolina’s health care industry.

49. Talladega College

84%Percent of African American students
50%Graduation rate for African Americans
$89,400Estimated net price of a degree
$32,000Average student debt load

At this small, private college in Alabama, being a top student can be a fashion statement. The college’s president started an honor society in which students who hold a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher receive custom-tailored blazers in the school’s powder blue and crimson colors to wear to school events. The idea, according to the president, is to give bright scholars a uniform, just like the top student–athletes get. Equally eye-catching at Talladega is the college’s six murals by legendary artist Hale Woodruff the college commissioned in the 1930’s. The paintings, one of which depicts the African rebellion on the slave ship Amistad, were on an exhibition tour of museums and will tentatively return to the campus in 2017, the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the college’s founding.

50. Rutgers University-Newark

16%Percent of African American students
60%Graduation rate for African Americans
$141,100Estimated net price of a degree
$22,200Average student debt load

Want to attend a college where you can receive scholarship money to study issues such as social justice? Rutgers University-Newark might be the place for you. Last fall 30 students were the first to take part in the New Jersey school’s new Honors Living-Learning Community, a program designed to help students enroll and succeed once they are on campus. The plan is to increase that number to upwards of 500 students in the program.


Note: Ranking factors include:

  • % student body who are African American,
  • Graduation rate for African Americans
  • Number of African Americans who graduate with STEM degrees
  • Net price for low-income students
  • Estimated net price of a degree for the typical student
  • Average student debt load upon graduation
  • % who pay any principal on their student loans down within three years
  • Whether or not the average amount of parent PLUS borrowing exceeds $2,500 per student
  • Indications of financial difficulties such as speculative ratings from Moody’s
  • Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce analysis of student loan repayments after adjusting for race and academic and socioeconomic background of students
  • 2011 earnings of aid recipients who started as freshmen in 2001
  • Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce analysis of earnings after adjusting for race and academic and socioeconomic background of students

Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, Peterson’s, College Measures, MONEY calculations

 

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