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Historically black colleges provide top education with cultural flavor

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Students socializing between classes at Philander Smith College.

Arkansas’ Historically Black Colleges and Universities — Philander Smith College and Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Shorter College in North Little Rock and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff — hold an important place in the state’s higher education community. Steeped in history and culture and distinguished for the quality of instruction, HBCU institutions offer a unique educational opportunity. 

 

PHILANDER SMITH COLLEGE

Founded in 1877 as Walden Seminary, Philander Smith College is the first historically black, four-year college in Arkansas, the first historically black college to be accredited by a regional accrediting institution and the first attempt west of the Mississippi River to make education available to freedmen. 

Re-named in honor of a generous patron, Philander Smith College was chartered as a four-year college on March 3, 1883. 

Philander Smith soon established a reputation for innovation. Unlike similar schools popping up at the time, PSC resisted a national trend of educating African Americans only in “practical” subjects such as carpentry or agriculture, choosing instead to include courses in journalism and advertising composition with vocational classes. In the late 1880s and the 1890s, the college offered courses in Greek, Latin, algebra, and natural philosophy. Moral and religious education, including prayer meetings and Bible studies, was required. Tuition was free for pre-ministerial students and a dollar a month for everyone else. 

Through changing times, Philander Smith College has continued to grow and remain relevant. Successful capital campaigns have brought new buildings and the astute leadership of its line of presidents has kept the school connected in the wider Little Rock community. The school offers degrees in nearly 20 majors across five academic divisions and the office of continuing study. 

Notable graduates of Philander Smith include Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general; Rev. James H. Cone, professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York; Lottie Shackelford, Little Rock’s first woman mayor; and professional athletes Elijah Pitts and Hubert “Geese” Ausbie. 

 

UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF

Established as Branch Normal in 1875 as a branch of what would later be known as the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, UAPB came to Pine Bluff in Jefferson County as a stand-alone teachers’ college. 

The first year the school welcomed seven students and within seven years had produced the first black college degree holder, conferred in 1882, and 10 more between 1882 and 1895.  Its first assistant teacher, hired in 1889, was Rufus C. Childress, the first graduate of Philander Smith College in Little Rock.

In 1922 the school developed into a multidisciplinary institution, a move reflected in the 1925 name change to Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (AM&N). In 1929, it became a standard four-year college. In 1972, AM&N was changed to University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff to coincide with the school merging into the university system. 

Today, UAPB also operates off-campus sites at Lake Village (Chicot County), Marianna (Lee County), North Little Rock (Pulaski County), and Lonoke (Lonoke County). It offers bachelor’s degrees in agriculture, fisheries and human sciences, arts and sciences, business and management, education and rehabilitation services. The graduate program awards master of education and the master of science degrees, including aquaculture and fisheries and addiction studies.

 

ARKANSAS BAPTIST COLLEGE

Originally named the Minister’s Institute, Arkansas Baptist College was founded in 1884. The school’s primary objectives were to raise the educational level within African American ministry and aid the state in making higher education available to young black men and women. Today, Religious Studies continues to be one of the college’s major areas of matriculation.

Arkansas Baptist College is a four-year historically black liberal arts institution that offers two- and four-year degree programs. It is the only black Baptist higher education institution west of the Mississippi River. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and affiliated with the Consolidated Missionary Baptist State Convention of Arkansas.

As one of Arkansas’ most affordable institutions of higher education, the college strives to attract students who desire a personal approach to their education with smaller classes, dedicated instructors, a sense of community and spiritual values and principles integrated throughout their collegiate experience.

Its stated mission is “Arkansas Baptist College prepares students for a life of service grounded in academic scholarship, the liberal arts tradition, social responsibility, Christian development and preparation for employment in a global community.”

 

SHORTER COLLEGE

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Scipio A. Jones and Daisy Gatson Bates are Shorter College graduates.

With alums such as Scipio A. Jones, a former slave and civil rights lawyer, and Daisy Gatson Bates, civil rights champion and supporter of the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School, Shorter College has etched its name indelibly in the struggle for equal rights and social justice. 

Founded in 1886 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) under the name Bethel Institute, Shorter College has a long and well-traveled history. Originally established to educate freedmen and to train teachers from its campus in downtown Little Rock, the college relocated to Arkadelphia five years later where it was chartered Shorter University in 1894. The school then relocated back to central Arkansas’ Argenta neighborhood of North Little Rock in 1898, where it changed its name to Shorter College in 1903 and remains to this day. 

Shorter College remained a four-year school until the 1950s when it changed to a two-year institution. Enrollment in the 1920s reached 800-plus students and 200 applicants turned away due to lack of space. For decades, Shorter students were immediately recognizable by the school’s strict dress code of navy blue serge suits with matching Oxford hats for women and navy blue jackets, trousers and caps for men.

The school faced hard times in the 1980s and 1990s, struggling financially and ultimately losing its accreditation, but an agreement with fellow HBCU University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff helped provide academic support while leadership worked to raise funds and restore accreditation. That goal was accomplished in 2013 and today, at more than 400 students, the historic school continues as one of higher education’s great comeback success stories.

 

 

 
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