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We Are Not the Same

Dr. Joseph L Jones

In the world of higher education, rankings play a pivotal role in helping students and parents make informed decisions about which college or university to choose. In 2024, the U.S. News World Report released its annual college and university rankings, a highly anticipated event for prospective students and curious parents. In recent years, U.S. News added a separate category for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). While this was a significant step toward recognizing the unique contributions of HBCUs, it fails to consider the miscellany among them.

Dr. Joseph L. JonesDr. Joseph L. JonesHBCUs are not a monolithic group but a diverse spectrum of institutions. The lumping together of all HBCUs into a single ranking category can be misleading for students and parents seeking to make informed decisions about their education. HBCUs encompass public and private institutions with distinct characteristics, strengths, and challenges.

According to the American Council on Education, there are 11 HBCUs designated as Research 2 institutions, signifying their commitment to research, grant writing, and publications. Remarkably, only two of these institutions are private, Clark Atlanta University and Howard University. The significance of this distinction cannot be overstated in comparison to other colleges and universities. Furthermore, Howard receives an annual federal appropriation, and therefore one can easily call into question the fidelity of its private status, which would leave Clark Atlanta the only remaining private R2 HBCU.

On this basis alone, institutions should be disaggregated when ranking HBCUs. I took time to reorganize the rankings based on the U.S. News World Report by public, private, and research designation, and the results look a lot different.

By reorganizing the rankings based on the U.S. News World Report, considering distinctions between public and private institutions and research designations, we can achieve a more accurate and fair comparison of HBCUs. This approach allows us to compare apples to apples rather than analyze a bowl of fruit, and it provides students, parents, and the broader public with valuable insights.

Moreover, HBCU presidents and advocates should focus on this refined ranking framework. It can be a compelling tool to convince students, donors, and public officials to better support these institutions.

This nuanced approach to ranking HBCUs is significant for my institution, Clark Atlanta. As an R2 university, we are responsible for unapologetically teaching, researching, and publishing on the conditions of Black people in the country and abroad. We have this intellectual pedigree as the first HBCU graduate school in the nation through Atlanta University. At the turn of the 20th century, Atlanta University was committed to researching the conditions of Black people in America through the Atlanta University Studies led by W.E.B. Du Bois. Today, we continue this tradition in our undergraduate and graduate programs through course offerings, research, and community engagement.

In an era where legislators are grappling with how Black history is taught and whether diversity, equity, and inclusion should be practiced, private HBCUs are crucial to ensuring that the authentic history of the country is taught. We remain steadfast against the politics of erasure, but we also need investment and funding to secure our continued contribution. Unfortunately, most of the public R2 have state legislators who are, in one way or another, attempting to prevent courses focused on race from being taught and even researched.

Clark Atlanta stands in a class of its own as the only true private HBCU without yearly governmental appropriation with R2 status. Because of our proximity to other colleges in the Atlanta University Center, we are compared with Morehouse and Spelman. Based on the U.S. News ranking, one would assume that Clark Atlanta is a lower-ranked institution compared to them. Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown, the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), and Morehouse School of Medicine are all uniquely different in history, mission, and traditions. We are not the same, nor are we competitors. Students, parents, and the broader public must understand these distinctions and appreciate each institution’s unique value.

In our quest for educational excellence and equity, let us remember that HBCUs, like the students we educate, are wonderfully diverse. Recognizing and celebrating these differences is essential and the key to supporting and strengthening these vital institutions. It’s time to embrace a ranking system that reflects this reality, ensuring that all HBCUs receive the recognition and resources they deserve.     

Dr. Joseph L. Jones is the executive director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy and Associate Professor of Political Science at Clark Atlanta University.

HBCU State Universities 

1. Florida A&M University

2. North Carolina A&T State University

3. Delaware State University

4. North Carolina Central University

5. Morgan State University

6. University of Maryland Eastern Shore

7. Bowie State University

8. Virginia State University

9. Winston-Salem State University

10. Elizabeth City State University

11. Lincoln University (Pennsylvania)

12. Fayetteville State University

13. University of the District of Columbia

14. Jackson State University

15. Prairie View A&M University

16. Tennessee State University

17. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

18. Alcorn State University

19. Coppin State University

20. Fort Valley State University

21. Kentucky State University

22. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

23. Alabama A&M University

24. Alabama State University

25. Bluefield State University

26. South Carolina State University

27. West Virginia State University

28. Albany State University

29. Southern University and A&M College

30. Langston University

31. Texas Southern University

32. Mississippi Valley State University

33. Savannah State University

34. Grambling State University

35. Lincoln University of Missouri

36. Southern University at New Orleans

37. Central State University

38. Harris-Stowe State University

HBCU Private Universities 

1.Howard University

2.Tuskegee University

3.Xavier University

4.Hampton University

5.Claflin University

6.Fisk University

7.Dillard University

8.Clark Atlanta University

9.Johnson C. Smith University

10.Oakwood University

11.Virginia Union University

12.Bethune-Cookman University

13.Florida Memorial University

14.Voorhees University

15.Wilberforce University

16.Edward Waters University

17.Huston-Tillotson University

18.Saint Augustine’s University 

19.Allen University

HBCU Private Colleges 

1. Spelman College

2. Morehouse College

3. Tougaloo College

4. Bennett College

5. Livingstone College

6. Philander Smith College

7. Rust College

8. Stillman College

9. Talladega College

10. Wiley College

11. Benedict College

12. Morris College

13. Jarvis Christian College

14. Lemoyne-Owen College

HBCU Carnegie Designated R2

1. Howard University

2. Florida A&M University

3. North Carolina A&T

4. Morgan State University

5. University of Maryland Eastern Shore

6. Clark Atlanta University

7. Jackson State University

8. Prairie View A&M University

9. Tennessee State University

10. Southern University and A&M College

11. Texas Southern University

HBCU Public Carnegie Designated R2

1. Florida A&M University

2. North Carolina A&T

3. Morgan State University

4. University of Maryland Eastern Shore

5. Jackson State University

6. Prairie View A&M University

7. Tennessee State University

8. Southern University and A&M College

9. Texas Southern University

HBCU Private Carnegie Designate R2

1. Howard University

2. Clark Atlanta University

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