Why were the first Universities created?

Why were the first Universities created?

I have read through my world history book and did some research online, but I have been unable to learn why the first Universities were created?

University: from Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium ("community of teachers and scholars)"

The university (as we know it today) was not created ex nihilo but rather grew out of something else, which was the pursuit of learning in urban centers among those who could afford it.

European higher education as far back as the 6th century was often found in Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools. Monks or nuns were the usual instructors. An example of one such school that later transformed into a university is the University of Paris. But the Church was not the only source of higher education. There had been a tradition for centuries of private tutors for the children of those with the means to afford them, and of course the opportunities for a select few to study with famous scholars from which "the Socratic method" has been passed down to us.

The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and is arguably the oldest university in Europe. It was established as a guild/group of students who were learning civil and canon law, and found it in their interest to form a society/guild for other reasons.

The University arose around mutual aid societies of foreign students called "nations" (as they were grouped by nationality) for protection against city laws which imposed collective punishment on foreigners for the crimes and debts of their countrymen. These students then hired scholars from the city to teach them. In time the various "nations" decided to form a larger association, or universitas - thus, the university.

The "why" in this case was as much protection from political bullying as advancement of education.

In contrast we can look at the University of Naples, founded in 1232. It is the most ancient state-supported institution of higher education and research in the world.

A university founded by a head of State was slightly different from the guild/corporate model with the same general purpose. The Emperor Frederick II created this university with the hope of curbing or opposing universities of Northern Italy (such as Bologna and Padua) which he felt were either too independent or under the strong influence of the Pope.

The "why" in this case was politics as much as it was the advancement of education.

The independence was granted by the Charter, which gave the Emperor the highest authority. He hired professors, who would become royal employees paid through royal funds. Moreover, the Emperor himself examined candidates and conferred degrees.

(It is somewhat ironic that Thomas Aquinas was one of the early distinguished graduates of the University of Naples, given the ideological tension between the clergy and that Emperor.)

During medieval times, the only thing close to what we would call education was carried out by the church. Usually by monks and nuns, studying religious texts and similar items. Some of these schools tended to be much better at this than others, and essentially this gave the opportunity to those more gifted in academia to study further and it became more than just learning to read and write, it became more about study of the texts and what they could mean. The exceptional schools then slowly transformed into what were known as universities.

This all grew in Europe, and eventually they started coming out of the hands of the church. They started to be created by royalty. With things like The rediscovery of Aristotle's work, there were plenty of young men who yearned to learn about things like mathematics, astronomy and literature. These students didn't always study religious texts or similar (although it may have played a part), it was more about the study of new and exciting things like science and engineering. This is arguably where the modern university culture started.

if you want more info, the wikipedia page on universities has some good examples of universities created around this time, but obviously remember it is wikipedia, and its just to get the idea of the world at that time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University#Medieval_universities

The USA modelled it's education system on Germany's (started with Kindergarten of course) and then ending with your "Gymnasium" or PhD.

The first Universities were in Upstate New York (Cornell, Colgate) and were "land grant Universities" dedicated to the study of Agriculture.

This they did very well…

History of America's Education Part3: Universities, Textbooks and Our Founders

Bill Maher, of Politically Incorrect, said,"America has never been a Christian Nation". However, as we read about the founding of our universities and the first textbooks that were used in this country, we can not dispute our Christian foundation.

106 of the first 108 colleges were started on the Christian faith. By the close of 1860 there were 246 colleges in America. Seventeen of these were state institutions almost every other one was founded by Christian denominations or by individuals who avowed a religious purpose.

Harvard College, 1636 - An Original Rule of Harvard College: "Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."

William and Mary, 1691 - The College of William and Mary was started mainly due to the efforts of Rev. James Blair in order, according to its charter of 1691, "that the Church of Virginia may be furnished with a seminary of ministers of the gospel, and that the youth may be piously educated in good letters and manners, and that the Christian religion may be propagated among the Western Indians to the glory of Almighty God."

Yale University, 1701 - Yale University was started by Congregational ministers in 1701,"for the liberal and religious education of suitable youth…to propagate in this wilderness, the blessed reformed Protestant religion…"

Princeton, 1746 - Associated with the Great Awakening, Princeton was founded by the Presbyterians in 1746. Rev. Jonathan Dickinson became its first president, declaring, "cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ."

University of Pennsylvania, 1751 - Ben Franklin had much to do with the beginning of the University of Pennsylvania. It was not started by a denomination, but its laws reflect its Christian character. Consider the first two Laws, relating to Moral Conduct (from 1801): "1. None of the students or scholars, belonging to this seminary, shall make use of any indecent or immoral language: whether it consist in immodest expressions in cursing and swearing or in exclamations which introduce the name of God, without reverence, and without necessity. "2. None of them shall, without a good and sufficient reason, be absent from school, or late in his attendance more particularly at the time of prayers, and of the reading of the Holy Scriptures."

Some other colleges started before America's Independence include: Columbia founded in 1754 (called King's College up until 1784), Dartmouth ,1770 Brown started by the Baptists in 1764 Rutgers, 1766, by the Dutch Reformed Church Washington and Lee, 1749 and Hampton-Sydney, 1776, by the Presbyterians.

It may surprise many to know that the Bible was truly the first textbook. The New Haven Code of 1655 required that children be made "able duly to read the Scriptures… and in some competent measure to understand the main grounds and principles of Christian Religion necessary to salvation."

a. The Bible was the central text - John Adams reflected the view of the founders in regard to the place of the Bible in society when he wrote: "Suppose a nation in some distant region, should take the Bible for their only law-book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited!… What a Utopia what a Paradise would this region be!" John Adams, Feb.22, 1756

b. Hornbooks - Hornbooks were brought to America, from Europe, by the colonists and were common from the 1500's - 1700's. A hornbook was a flat piece of wood with a handle, upon which a sheet of printed paper was attached and covered with transparent animal horn to protect it. A typical hornbook had the alphabet, the vowels, a list of syllables, the invocation of the Trinity, and the Lord's Prayer.

c. Catechisms - There were over 500 different catechisms used in early education. Later, the Westminister Catechism became the most prominent one.

d. The New England Primer - It was the most prominent schoolbook for about 100 years and was used through the 1800's. It sold over 3 million copies in 150 years.

e. Webster's Blue-Backed Speller - First published in 1783 it sold over 100 million copies. It was one of the most influential textbooks and was based on "God's Word."

f. The McGuffey Readers - Written by minister and university professor William Holmes McGuffey, the McGuffey Readers "represent the most significant force in the framing of our national morals and tastes" other than the Bible.

While there were many other textbooks (especially in the 1800's), the ones just mentioned were some of the most important.

Education in Religion was central to our Founders: Benjamin Rush signer of the Declaration of Independence wrote, "…the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments." The type of education that shaped our Founders character and ideas was thoroughly Christian. It imparted Christian character and produced honest, industrious, compassionate, respectful, and law-abiding men. It imparted a Biblical world-view and produced people who were principled thinkers.

After serving as the Los Angeles press contact for the Pat Robertson presidential campaign - April spent more than ten years researching and gathering material pertinent to the "changing" world we live in.

Shenandoah's Freedom Tea Party forums educate those unaware of the stripping of America's freedoms. She sits on the board of The National Council of Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina and ABC-Learn, Inc., in San Fernando, California. Shenandoah wears the unofficial title of Ambassador of Prayer.

Historical Timeline of Public Education in the US

The General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony decrees that every town of fifty families should have an elementary school and that every town of 100 families should have a Latin school. The goal is to ensure that Puritan children learn to read the Bible and receive basic information about their Calvinist religion.

Thomas Jefferson proposes a two-track educational system, with different tracks in his words for "the laboring and the learned." Scholarship would allow a very few of the laboring class to advance, Jefferson says, by "raking a few geniuses from the rubbish."

The Continental Congress (before the U.S. Constitution was ratified) passes a law calling for a survey of the "Northwest Territory" which included what was to become the state of Ohio. The law created "townships," reserving a portion of each township for a local school. From these "land grants" eventually came the U.S. system of "land grant universities," the state public universities that exist today. Of course in order to create these townships, the Continental Congress assumes it has the right to give away or sell land that is already occupied by Native people.

Pennsylvania state constitution calls for free public education but only for poor children. It is expected that rich people will pay for their children's schooling.

New York Public School Society formed by wealthy businessmen to provide education for poor children. Schools are run on the "Lancasterian" model, in which one "master" can teach hundreds of students in a single room. The master gives a rote lesson to the older students, who then pass it down to the younger students. These schools emphasize discipline and obedience qualities that factory owners want in their workers.

A petition presented in the Boston Town Meeting calls for establishing of a system of free public primary schools. Main support comes from local merchants, businessmen and wealthier artisans. Many wage earners oppose it, because they don't want to pay the taxes.

First public high school in the U.S., Boston English, opens.

Massachusetts passes a law making all grades of public school open to all pupils free of charge.

By this time, most southern states have laws forbidding teaching people in slavery to read. Even so, around 5 percent become literate at great personal risk.

The percentage of people working in agriculture plummets as family farms are gobbled up by larger agricultural businesses and people are forced to look for work in towns and cities. At the same time, cities grow tremendously, fueled by new manufacturing industries, the influx of people from rural areas and many immigrants from Europe. During the 10 years from 1846 to 1856, 3.1 million immigrants arrive a number equal to one eighth of the entire U.S. population. Owners of industry needed a docile, obedient workforce and look to public schools to provide it.

Slave-owner James Bowie and Indian-killer Davy Crockett are among those killed in the Battle of the Alamo in Texas, in their attempt to take Texas by force from Mexico.

Horace Mann becomes head of the newly formed Massachusetts State Board of Education. Edmund Dwight, a major industrialist, thinks a state board of education was so important to factory owners that he offered to supplement the state salary with extra money of his own.

Over a million Irish immigrants arrive in the United States, driven out of their homes in Ireland by the potato famine. Irish Catholics in New York City struggle for local neighborhood control of schools as a way of preventing their children from being force-fed a Protestant curriculum.

The United States annexes Texas.

President James Polk orders the invasion of Mexico.

Massachusetts Reform School at Westboro opens, where children who have refused to attend public schools are sent. This begins a long tradition of "reform schools," which combine the education and juvenile justice systems.

The war against Mexico ends with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which gives the United States almost half of what was then Mexico. This includes all of what is now the U.S. Southwest, plus parts of Utah, Nevada and Wyoming and most of California.The treaty guarantees citizenship rights to everyone living in these areas mostly Mexicans and Native people. It also guarantees the continued use of the Spanish language, including in education. One hundred fifty years later, in 1998, California breaks that treaty, by passing Proposition 227, which would make it illegal for teachers to speak Spanish in public schools.

State of Massachusetts passes first its compulsory education law. The goal is to make sure that the children of poor immigrants get "civilized" and learn obedience and restraint, so they make good workers and don't contribute to social upheaval.

Congress makes it illegal for Native Americans to be taught in their native languages. Native children as young as four years old are taken from their parents and sent to Bureau of Indian Affairs off-reservation boarding schools, whose goal, as one BIA official put it, is to "kill the Indian to save the man."

African Americans mobilize to bring public education to the South for the first time. After the Civil War, and with the legal end of slavery, African Americans in the South make alliances with white Republicans to push for many political changes, including for the first time rewriting state constitutions to guarantee free public education. In practice, white children benefit more than Black children.

Reconstruction ends in 1877 when federal troops, which had occupied the South since the end of the Civil War are withdrawn. Whites regain political control of the South and lay the foundations of legal segregation.

Size of school boards in the country's 28 biggest cities is cut in half. Most local district (or "ward") based positions are eliminated, in favor of city-wide elections. This means that local immigrant communities lose control of their local schools. Makeup of school boards changes from small local businessmen and some wage earners to professionals (like doctors and lawyers), big businessmen and other members of the richest classes.

Plessy v. Ferguson decision. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the state of Louisiana has the right to require "separate but equal" railroad cars for Blacks and whites. This decision means that the federal government officially recognizes segregation as legal. One result is that southern states pass laws requiring racial segregation in public schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court requires California to extend public education to the children of Chinese immigrants.

Smith-Hughes Act passes, providing federal funding for vocational education. Big manufacturing corporations push this, because they want to remove job skill training from the apprenticeship programs of trade unions and bring it under their own control.

An act of Congress makes Native Americans U.S. citizens for the first time.

The NAACP brings a series of suits over unequal teachers' pay for Blacks and whites in southern states. At the same time, southern states realize they are losing African American labor to the northern cities. These two sources of pressure resulted in some increase of spending on Black schools in the South.

A survey of 150 school districts reveals that three quarters of them are using so-called intelligence testing to place students in different academic tracks.

At the end of World War 2, the G.I. Bill of Rights gives thousands of working class men college scholarships for the first time in U.S. history.

Educational Testing Service is formed, merging the College Entrance Examination Board, the Cooperative Test Service, the Graduate Records Office, the National Committee on Teachers Examinations and others, with huge grants from the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations. These testing services continued the work of eugenicists like Carl Brigham (originator of the SAT) who did research "proving" that immigrants were feeble-minded.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The Supreme Court unanimously agrees that segregated schools are "inherently unequal" and must be abolished. Almost 45 years later in 1998, schools, especially in the north, are as segregated as ever.

A federal court orders integration of Little Rock, Arkansas public schools. Governor Orval Faubus sends his National Guard to physically prevent nine African American students from enrolling at all-white Central High School. Reluctantly, President Eisenhower sends federal troops to enforce the court order not because he supports desegregation, but because he can't let a state governor use military power to defy the U.S. federal government.

African American parents and white teachers clash in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville area of New York City, over the issue of community control of the schools. Teachers go on strike, and the community organizes freedom schools while the public schools are closed.

Milliken v. Bradley. A Supreme Court made up of Richard Nixon's appointees rules that schools may not be desegregated across school districts. This effectively legally segregates students of color in inner-city districts from white students in wealthier white suburban districts.

Late 1970s
The so-called "taxpayers' revolt" leads to the passage of Proposition 13 in California, and copy-cat measures like Proposition 2-1/2 in Massachusetts. These propositions freeze property taxes, which are a major source of funding for public schools. As a result, in twenty years California drops from first in the nation in per-student spending in 1978 to number 43 in 1998.

The federal Tribal Colleges Act establishes a community college on every Indian reservation, which allows young people to go to college without leaving their families.

Proposition 187 passes in California, making it illegal for children of undocumented immigrants to attend public school. Federal courts hold Proposition 187 unconstitutional, but anti-immigrant feeling spreads across the country.

Leading the way backwards again, California passes Proposition 209, which outlaws affirmative action in public employment, public contracting and public education. Other states jump on the bandwagon with their own initiatives and right wing elements hope to pass similar legislation on a federal level.

California again! This time a multi-millionaire named Ron Unz manages to put a measure on the June 1998 ballot outlawing bilingual education in California.

The Rise of the Universities

As students at a university, you are part of a great tradition. Consider the words you use: campus, tuition, classes, courses, lectures, faculty, students, administration, chancellor, dean, professor, sophomore, junior, senior, fees, assignments, laboratory, dormitory, requirements, prerequisites, examinations, texts, grades, convocation, graduation, commencement, procession, diploma, alumni association, donations, and so forth. These are the language of the university, and they are all derived from Latin, almost unchanged from their medieval origins. The organization of this university, its activities and its traditions, are continuations of a barroom brawl that took place in Paris almost 800 years ago.



Arithmetic served as the basis for quantitative reasoning geometry for architecture, surveying, and calculating measurements -- all essential to managing a church's property and income. Astronomy was necessary for calculating the date of Easter, predicting eclipses, and marking the passing of the seasons. For some time, about all the cathedral and monastery schools could manage was to train enough priests to provide the bare essential of educated local leaders.

By the 1000's, this began to change as some schools began to develop elements of their quadrivium beyond the requirements of mere priestly training. Some integrated their curricula by adopting a standard text such as The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, or some other compendium of knowledge, the most famous being those written by Cassidorus, Martianus Capella, or Isidore of Seville. The masters at some other schools developed a more flexible approach to the concept of education and attempted to extend knowledge as well as impart it to their students.

One of the latter was the cathedral school of Reims, where the Spanish-trained Gerbert of Aurillac developed the mathematical aspects of the quadrivium by introducing Arabic numerical notation, the use of the abacus for numerical calculation, and the astrolabe for astronomical observation. Under the leadership of one of Gerbert's students, the nearby monastery school of Fleury continued this development. Other schools developed in different directions, with Orleans specializing in classical studies, and Chartres in the mathematical theory of music. Still another such center of specialized learning was the little Norman monastery of Bec, which, under the leadership of Lanfranc, and Anselm, became known throughout northern Europe for the teaching of Law.



On the left bank of the Seine, there were several monasteries, each with its own school: Ste. Genevieve, St. Germain des Pres, and St. Victor. Although each of these schools had a master, he was not the only teacher there, as had been the case in many of the earlier cathedral and monastery schools. Qualified teachers could apply to the chancellor or an abbot for membership in their institutions and, having been granted that membership, they formed part of the faculty of that institution's school. Some instructors resided in the monastery itself and some outside, providing the basis for a distinction that persists in the professor and associate professor. The professors hired assistants (assistant professors), who might someday become professors themselves, while particularly able students might be hired to teach basic subjects in the grammar school as instructors. The professors usually offered a course, or series, of lectures in which they would read from a text, a work generally accepted as being important to know, so the students could copy down the words, and then the lecturer would offer explanations of the text, while the students made notes in the wide margins they had left for that purpose (marginalia). As an aside, it was customary for notes referring to other works relevant to the passage to be put at the bottom, of foot, of the page, a practice that has survived as the modern footnote. When the course of lectures was competed, the student would have finished copying the text and his notes of the lecturer's commentaries in his textbook. When the student felt ready he could appear before the chancellor to be examined. If approved, he was given a diploma, an official document that permitted him to preach or teach in the diocese of Paris.

Students could attend any courses they wished from any of the faculty in any of these schools, since all that really counted was whether they could satisfy the chancellor that they were competent. So they tended to find rooms in the district of the city between these centers and to pick and choose which lectures they wished to hear on which books. The instructors began to rent halls in the district in which to give their lectures, and this part of Paris became a center of learning, being known as the Latin Quarter, since the common language for the various people living and studying there was Latin. The cathedral school of Notre Dame was the home base of the most respected and well known teachers, and at first overshadowed the schools of the Latin Quarter but that began to change. The chancellor of Notre Dame considered the fact that all teachers (and all students, too) were in "holy orders," that is, they were clergy although neither priests nor monks. As the representative of the bishop, the chancellor felt that all clergy in Paris owed him obedience and tried to tell the instructors not only what to teach, but how they were to teach it.

This clash between the chancellor and masters was only the beginning of a tension that continues to the present day. Just as the chancellor of Notre Dame claimed the power to command the obedience of the masters in all things because they were members of the Church, so too in many state universities today, chancellors or presidents attempt to extend their authority over the faculty because the faculty are state employees. In medieval Paris, this conflict caused many masters (instructors) to move to the Latin Quarter and join the "faculties" of the monastery schools there. The intellectual center of the city moved to an area further from the chancellor's direct control, and the masters began to consider the chancellor as an enemy rather than their administrative head.


The manner of teaching soon changed. Instead of listening to their master read and interpret, the students wanted to be taught how to reason. The public debate soon replaced the lecture in attracting the student's attention. They particularly like to hear their masters debate each other. At the same time that the nobles were developing the man-to-man armed confrontations of the tournament, scholars were developing the logical combat of the public debate.

At the same time, the demand of both Church and princes for trained administrators and lawyers was growing, and students found that skill in argumentation was a surer key to success than being able to determine the date of Easter or explain the mathematical proportions that were harmonic and those that were not. An ex-student by the name of John of Salisbury, commented that the study of the Liberal Arts (the trivium and quadrivium) were being abandoned in favor of mere professional training.


In any event the boy dragged himself back to his master, and the student and his friends went down to the tavern and beat up everybody before they went home with a large jugful of decent wine. The barkeep asked the provost to punish the students, and the provost gathered his men, together with a number of volunteers, and blocked all of the streets into the Latin Quarter. They then went hunting for the German student, slapping people around as they went. A number of masters and students were irritated by this, took to the streets, and a pitched battle ensued. The provost and his men finally withdrew, but not before they had killed five students, including the German student who had started it all, and who happened to have been the prince-bishop elect of Liege (in what is now Belgium).

The chancellor refused to help the master and students of the Latin Quarter, so they barricaded the streets leading into the Latin Quarter, and the masters held a meeting that night. They decided to organize themselves into a union, or, as it was called in the Latin of the time, a universitas. Since their students were studying in order to become masters themselves, the union included the students as more or less junior members. The next day, representatives of the union went to the king of France and announced themselves as spokesmen for The University of the Masters and Students of Paris.

They demanded a number of corporate rights, privileges and protection from the king. When the king asked what they would do if he decided to say no, they replied with the famous words, "Then we shall shake the dust of the streets of Paris from the hems of our gowns." In effect, they were threatening to leave and to do their teaching elsewhere. King Philip realized that Paris would lose much of its attractiveness and he would lose a considerable amount of taxes if the masters, students and all of the people who provided services to the Latin Quarter were to leave, and so agreed to protect the members of the Universitas. Much more happened in succeeding years. There were continuing struggles with the chancellor and provost, and even among the students and masters themselves, but in the end the union of masters and students was recognized by all. They gained powers -- the right to establish the curriculum, the requirements, and the standards of accomplishment the right to debate any subject and uphold in debate any subject the right to choose their own members protection from local police the right of each member to keep his license to teach as soon as he had been admitted to full membership and others. These rights were often won in open battles in which people -- masters and students -- died, but they were rights that faculty still guard jealously today.

As an aside to help you to become more knowledgeable than your fellows who don't study medieval history, I'll tell you why graduation is called Commencement (and no, it's not because it's the beginning of your "real life"). In the large halls where students and faculty ate, the faculty used to eat at table on a raised platform at one end of the long line of tables at which the students sat. When the students finished their course of study and graduated, they became fully-fledged members of the University and equals of the faculty. Consequently, at the grand banquet with which they celebrated their graduation, faculty and former students (both the newly-graduated and alumni) ate together as equals. They shared tables, or, in the Latin of the time, they ate at a commensa, a common table for all. This is why, not so long ago, Commencement and Reunion took place at the same time and why the University Dinner was the high point of the graduation events.

Lynn Harry Nelson
Emeritus Professor of
Medieval History
The University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas

Top 10 Oldest Universities in the World: Ancient Colleges

Unfortunately, the U.S. will never boast a medieval university, as this country’s origins, established in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence, were formed when the oldest university in the world already was about nine centuries old. If you’re interested, we do have a list of the oldest universities in the U.S., by accreditation year.

The following list of ten oldest universities in the world shows, through their brief histories, a trend: The university as an autonomous self-governing institution first was developed as religious institutions (madrasahs) that originated in the medieval Islamic world. But, Europe did not fall far behind these Islamic developments, as Italy founded its first university approximately two centuries after the first university developed in Morocco. The last university on this list, the University of Padua in Italy, was founded in 1222 — 270 years before Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue in 1492.

This list is compiled of extant universities, although a few of them closed for brief periods from the effects of war or local disputes. On the whole, the European universities on this list have expanded their campuses and enjoy high rankings in the world today. The list below is compiled in order of the university’s founding.

The invention of spectacles

Several names and places are associated with the supposed 'invention' of spectacles though the truth is they were probably invented anonymously and developed over a period of time. In the Viking Age 'lenses' were ground out of rock crystal in Sweden. These were investigated by Otto Ahlström as part of his studies of Viking jewellery but could be thought of as purely decorative.

It is now generally accepted that spectacles were 'invented' (more likely improvised) no later than the last quarter of the thirteenth century by the Italians (rather than the Dutch or even the Chinese) and that their specific area of origin centred possibly on the Veneto region, rather than Pisa or Florence, though each of those cities still has its historians, amateur and professional, who will argue its case. In recent decades the debate has sometimes been driven more by Italian civic pride than by hard evidence although this has been partly permissible since the corpus of reliable documentary evidence is actually quite small.

If the archaeological evidence were given priority our attention would switch away from Italy altogether, towards the Germanic countries, since only one pair of the earliest rivet-type of spectacles has ever been found in Italy. A fair and non-committal summary has recently been written concluding that &lsquothe most likely scenario is of an evolving technology with many people working&rsquo.

Roger Bacon

One of the first figures to be associated with the invention of spectacles was the thirteenth century English friar Roger Bacon, who was based in Paris and outlined the scientific principles behind the use of corrective lenses in his Opus Majus (c.1266), of which the College possesses an early printed edition prepared from Bacon's manuscripts in 1733.

The idea that monks or friars possessed a secret knowledge of spectacles that they later unleashed on the world found currency with several writers, notably William Molyneux in his Dioptrica Nova (1692). Unfortunately no evidence survives to suggest that Bacon ever applied his theoretical knowledge of 'perspectiva' (optics) despite the fact that, as a Franciscan, he was part of a practically-minded religious order. A recent biographer of Bacon, Brian Clegg, insists that for Bacon the fledgling notion of &lsquoscience&rsquo was entirely concerned with the accumulation of practical knowledge with a specific end in mind. This is evident in his less well-known work of the 1260s or 1270s on burning glasses, De speculis comburentibus. The Opus Majus is, of course, only a summary proposal addressed to Pope Clement IV for a still larger work that Bacon was fated never to complete. Had the main work ever materialised the corpus of original practical experimentation that scholars now agree underpinned the summary might well have resulted in some form of binocular mounted lens. Perhaps the man himself had produced one already, or it may have been amongst the thousands of pounds worth of equipment that Bacon was in the privileged position to purchase in furtherance of his studies? It is dangerous to assume, however, that the 'inventor' of spectacles had any theoretical knowledge of physical optics at all.

Early references to spectacles are notoriously suspect. Sometimes they have only been recorded years after the events described. Other references have been interpreted as meaning what we understand as spectacles, but those interpretations could be mistaken.

In 1282 a priest named Nicholas Bullet is alleged to have used spectacles whilst signing an agreement.

By 1284 De Cristalleris, a chapter of the by-laws of the Venetian guilds prohibits the use of ordinary white glass instead of crystal, in order to keep standards high. Further Venetian State decrees of 1300 and 1301 refer to roidi da ogli as well as reading lenses (Latin: vitreos ab oculis ad legendum). Whilst this may not mean spectacles as we would understand them, the improvements in lens-making technology in the area of Venice was certainly crucial to their development.

Fra Giordano's Sermon

The pictures show the front of the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence and the present pulpit. In this church Giordano da Rivalto, a Dominican friar from Pisa, renowned for his popular preaching, delivered a Lent sermon on 23 February 1305, the wording of which deserves close scrutiny. Celebrating the ingenuity of mankind, he stated (in translation): 'It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making spectacles' (Italian: occhiali) This could mean that spectacles were known to him to have been around since 1285 (or maybe 1286, or indeed an even later date, if the twenty-year mark had not yet been reached). He referred to a 'new art' and it is now generally accepted that the Friar's next words can be translated 'I have seen the man who first invented and created it and I have talked to him'. It seems unlikely, however, that there was ever one Damascus moment when the art of making spectacles was suddenly 'found' the remark could refer to the development of one particularly successful method of manufacturing a device that was still in its infancy and may have been calculated to flatter a patron. It is also unclear to what extent Giordano would have been aware of developments outside of the Florentine sphere of influence.

The manuscript sermons of Friar Giordano remain the property of the sisters of St Catherine at San Gaggio and are preserved at the Mediceo-Laurenziana library where, no doubt, they will continue to be the source of controversy.

In 1305 Bernard de Gordon's Lilium medicinae written in Montpellier reported that an eye lotion (collyrium) was so effective that it allowed the elderly to read small letters 'without spectacles' (sine ocularibus), however these words come from the printed version first issued in the late fifteenth century (the College possesses a slightly later edition of 1574) and the original manuscript's oculus berillinus (or sine oculo berillion) may just refer to a single lens or a magnifying glass. Bernard was a French physician, possibly of Scottish descent, who had studied medicine at Salerno, Italy but was now teaching in France. His career is proof that academics could travel widely and potentially encounter new technologies in various lands.

In 1310 Arnold of Villanova's On Preserving Youth and Retarding Old Age echoed Aristotle by saying an old man would see as well as a young man if he had a youthful eye. Some unreliable sixteenth century printed editions included an additional line to the effect that a polished object can concentrate scattered rays of light. From this some historians have concluded that Arnold 'adduced' the invention of spectacles.

Around the turn of the 13th and14th centuries convex 'lenses' of a form which could have been of benefit to presbyopic patients were being produced on the glass-manufacturing island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon. Whether this was, in fact, their purpose is another matter.

Alessandro Della Spina

Over three centuries ago, probably in 1673, it was first reported by the Florentine scholar Carlo Roberto Dati in an essay on The Invention of Eyeglasses that a document existed in the Dominican convent of St Catherine in Pisa. This Chronicle told how a friar who had died in 1313 had learned how spectacles (Latin: ocularia) were made from somebody else who was 'the first to invent them' and subsequently been able to make them himself, though only it seems for his personal use, and consequently he had shared the invention with the wider world out of a sense of charity lacking in the original craftsman whose handiwork he had witnessed. This document has now been rediscovered by modern historians. It is important because it implies that della Spina was a conduit by whom the method was spread but that the original 'inventor' had endeavoured to keep the process a secret.

It is impossible to know if Friar Giordano and Friar Allessandro either met or were talking about the same man and whether they did so in Pisa or Florence. It would be wrong for us, unquestioningly, to follow Dati's seeming assumption that the 'inventor' was 'probably' a Pisan. This evidence supports the idea of a late 13th century North Italian development but the native origin of the 'inventor' and his basis for claiming the title are lost to history.

Salvino D'Armati's Fraudulent Epitaph

Since 1684 historians have known of the following epitaph to be found in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence: Here lies / Salvino d'Armato of the Armati / of Florence / Inventor of Spectacles / May God forgive him his sins / AD 1317. Philologists have since worked out that the use of the word 'inventor' is anachronistic in Italy at this date whilst genealogists have failed to trace this particular member of the family. The epitaph is now considered to have been a deliberate family fraud of unknown date. The actual plaque in existence today dates only from 1841 and was removed in the 1890s from the outside wall and hidden away low down in a corner of one of the side chapels.

To the right is a photograph of an ancient Greco-Roman bust which was artificially coupled with the epitaph in 1841 and a pencil sketch of the Armati memorial drawn before 1950 and now in the BOA Museum but formerly part of the Hamblin Collection.

The graphic to the left reveals where to spot the Armati memorial plaque (photo dating from September 2017).

From 1316 an Italian manuscript survives in which the price of a pair of spectacles in a case is given as six Bolognese solidi.

In 1329 a Tuscan merchant filed a complaint that spectacles he had bought in Florence had been stolen from him.

Circa 1330, the Lueneburg Casket in Wienhausen was constructed with four decorative convex glass disks, now bearing painted evangelist symbols but which appear to have originated as ground spectacle lenses with a refractive power of 3.5 dioptres. If so, these would be the earliest surviving glass spectacle lenses.

The Treviso Frescoes

The earliest depiction of spectacles in a painted work of art occurs in series of frescoes dated 1352 by Tommaso da Modena in the Chapter House of the Seminario attached to the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, north of Venice.

Cardinal Hugo of Provence

Cardinal Hugo of Provence is shown at his writing desk wearing a pair of rivet spectacles that appear to stay in place on the nose without additional support. The Cardinal actually died in the 1260s and could never have worn spectacles!

Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen

Across the room Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen is depicted using a monocular lens in the style of later quizzing glasses. The artist has even tried to represent the physical effort of straining to see the book through the lens.

The men depicted in this series of paintings are Dominicans (like Fra Rivalto), members of a dynamic monastic order founded in 1217 and regarded as 'the carrier of the sciences'.

It is notable that visual aids are portrayed as devices for the use of literate men as well as aesthetes - they had, after all, commissioned this important work of early Renaissance art.

A work of fiction from 1358, by Franco Saccheti (1330-1400), has a Florentine prior saying 'I don't see well without my spectacles' (Italian: occhiali).

Guy de Chauliac

In 1363 the sexagenarian French priest and surgeon, Guy de Chauliac, noted in his Grande Chirurgie that if a certain eye lotion such as fennel is insufficient, 'we must resort to spectacles of glass or beryl'. The Latin text commonly quoted for this is: ocularios vitri aut berillorum but it exists in various versions. The College's early printed copy of this work, produced some time after 1500, reads: [et] si ista non valet ad ocularios vitri aut berillon est recurrendum. This is a more convincing reference to early spectacles than the similar remark by Bernard de Gordon in 1305, but it also implies that, nearly a century after their invention, spectacles were still considered an unsatisfactory solution, at least by the conservative medical profession.

St Paul wearing spectacles

Circa.1375-80 Saint Paul is depicted wearing spectacles, apparently with tinted lenses, in an illuminated manuscript version of the popular French Bible Historiale (at the start of Romans 1). The suggestion is that he needs darkened glasses to cope with the blinding light of revelation. Our illustration (left) is taken from an early twentieth century tourist souvenir, presumably from the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and inaccurately claims it to be the 'first known representation of eye-glasses', revealing how recently much of our knowledge on this subject has been acquired. It does, however, reinforce the association of spectacles with religious communities in 14th century France.

In summary the invention of spectacles is shrouded in mystery. The intellectual understanding of optics necessary to inform their invention was certainly in place by the later 1260s but we know, in any case, that they were not the first type of visual aid to be used and they are only a refinement of the single lens device. They were certainly being made and written about in Venice by 1300 at the latest and were being spoken of in Pisa (apparently retrospectively) in 1305. There are various possible conclusions that can be drawn from the available evidence but arguments as to the probable origin of spectacles are largely supposition, instinct or biased opinion.


Oh wow… I always knew Timbuktu (Tombouctou in Mali) because of the story of the great emperor of the kingdom of Mali , Mansa Kankan Musa . I knew it was the center of his empire, but it is only lately that I realized that it was one of the world’s first and oldest thriving university! Students came from all over the world to study at Timbuktu. Imagine that, students from the middle east, and Europe coming to Africa to study! oooohhhh … Goodness Gracious, that sight only would make me proud! Well, to those who say Africa only has an oral tradition, go and check out the 700,000 manuscripts at the great Sankore University in Timbuktu, and tell me what you think! Oh la la…

In one documentary, the speaker mentions that they translated one of the manuscript on Algebra from Arabic to

Sankore University in Timbuktu

French, and sent it to France to be evaluated educationally well, that manuscript revealed that the mathematics it contained was currently studied in 2nd year of university in France, and the speaker then says “ and that was taught at universities in Timbuktu before the 16th century “! Wow… my Goodness!

Fatima al-Fihri: Founder of World’s Very First University

The name Fatima Al-Fihri crowns the annals of history with the distinction of having established the world’s very first university. Yes, it was a Muslim woman who pioneered a model of higher learning coupled with the issuance of degrees of various levels.

Fatima Al-Fihri migrated with her family in the early ninth century from Qayrawan in present-day Tunisia to the city of Fez in Morocco. This was during the rule of Idrees II, an extraordinary ruler and devout Muslim. Fez at that time was a bustling metropolis of the “Muslim West” (known as al-Maghrib), and held the promise in the people’s imaginations of fortune and felicity. Having become one of the most influential Muslim cities, Fez boasted a rich combination of religion and culture, both traditional and cosmopolitan. This was the city, on the left bank of the River Fez, where Fatima’s family settled and she eventually married.

After much toil and struggle in humble beginnings, the family of Fatima was eventually blessed with prosperity. Her father, Mohammad bin Abdullah Al-Fihri, had become a hugely successful businessman. After the deaths of Fatima’s husband, father, and brother in short succession, Fatima and her only other sibling, Mariam, received a sizable inheritance which assured their financial independence. It was in this latter period of their lives that they distinguished themselves. Having received a good education, the sisters in turn hastened to dedicate all of their wealth to benefiting their community. Observing that the local mosques in Fez could not accommodate the growing population of worshipers, many of whom were refugees from Islamic Spain, Mariam built the breathtaking and grand Andalusian Mosque in 245AH/859CE.

And Fatima founded Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University, considered by many historians as the oldest, continually operating, degree-granting university in the world. Historical references note that she directly oversaw and guided the construction process in great detail, certainly a testament to her great dedication as she had no expertise in the field!

Fatima had grand aspirations, and early on began buying property adjacent to the initial land, thereby significantly increasing the size of the mosque. She diligently spent all that was required of time and money to see the project to completion. She was also extremely pious and devout in worship and made a religious vow to fast daily from the first day of construction in Ramadan 245 AH/859 CE until the project was completed some two years later, whereupon she offered prayers of gratitude in the very mosque she had so tirelessly worked to build.

Masjid Al-Qarawiyyin, one of the largest mosques in North Africa, housed the university which was to become a major center of advanced learning in medieval times in the Mediterranean. Al-Qarawiyyin University is credited with producing many distinguished Muslim thinkers including Abul-Abbas, the jurist Muhammad al-Fasi, and Leo Africanus, the famous author and traveler. Other prominent names associated with the institution include the Maliki jurist Ibn al-Arabi (d. 543AH/1148CE), the historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 808AH/1406CE), and the astronomer al-Bitruji (Alpetragius) (d. 1204CE).

Non-Muslims were welcome to matriculate. In fact, the University’s outstanding caliber attracted Gerber of Auvergne who later became Pope Sylvester II and went on to introduce Arabic numerals and the concept of zero to medieval Europe. One of the university’s most famous students was a Jewish physician and philosopher, Maimonides.

He was born in Andalusia in 1138 while it was flourishing as an intellectual and cultural hub under Muslim rule. His family moved to Fez, Morocco in 1160 where he was heavily influenced by Islamic thought. A distinguished theologian, he was the first to introduce articles of faith to Judaism he considered it mandatory for every Jew to believe in the absolute unity of God, in His exclusive right to be worshipped, in revelation through prophets, resurrection, and Divine punishment and reward.

By the 14th century, the university housed the Al-Qarawiyyin Library which remains one of the oldest in the world, preserving some of Islam’s most valuable manuscripts. These include volumes from the Muwatta of Imam Malik inscribed on gazelle parchment, the Seerah of Ibn Ishaq, the premier transcript of Ibn Khaldun’s Al-‘Ibar, and a copy of the Qur’an gifted to the institution in 1602 by Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur.

Fatima Al-Fihri’s Legacy

Almost 1200 years have passed since the founding of the University of Al-Qarawiyin in 859, and it continues to this day to graduate students in the various religious and physical sciences. This esteemed institution, which already had 8,000 students by the 14th century, is central to the legacy of Fatima Al-Fihri. Her story is one of timeless dedication to the Islamic tradition of learning and academic study, as well as personal devotion to pleasing Allah SWT by serving as a genuine benefactor to humanity. The world is richer as a result.

History of the University

Texas A&M is the state's first public institution of higher education. With a student body of more than 59,000 and more than 5,200 acres on the College Station campus, Texas A&M is also among the nation's largest universities. Our origins, however, are much humbler: we owe our existence to the Morrill Act, approved by the United States Congress on July 2, 1862. This act provided for donation of public land to the states for the purpose of funding higher education whose "leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic arts."

The State of Texas agreed to create a college under the terms of the Morrill Act in November 1866, but actual formation didn't come until the establishment of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas by the Texas state legislature on April 17, 1871. A commission created to locate the institution accepted the offer of 2,416 acres of land from the citizens of Brazos County in 1871, and instruction began in 1876. Admission was limited to white males, and, as required by the Morrill Act, all students were required to participate in military training.

Texas A&M underwent many changes in the 1960s under the presidency of Gen. James Earl Rudder. Under his tenure the college diversified, opening its doors to African-Americans and formally admitting women. Participation in the Corps of Cadets was also made voluntary. In 1963, the Texas state legislature officially renamed the school to Texas A&M University, with the "A" and "M" being a symbolic link to the school's past but no longer officially standing for "Agricultural and Mechanical."

Since that time, Texas A&M has flourished to become one of the nation's premier research universities. Along with the University of Texas and Rice, Texas A&M is one of only three Tier 1 universities in the state. In 1971 and 1989, respectively, Texas A&M was designated as a sea-grant and a space-grant institution, making it among the first four universities to hold the triple distinction of land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant designations.

While membership in the Corps of Cadets became voluntary in 1965, the Corps has nonetheless continued to play a key role in the university. The Corps is often referred to as the "Keepers of the Spirit" and "Guardians of Tradition." Texas A&M remains one of only six senior military colleges, and the Corps of Cadets is the largest uniformed body outside the national service academies. As such, it has historically produced more officers than any other institution in the nation other than the academies.

The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum opened in 1997 on west campus, making Texas A&M one of only a few universities to host a presidential library on their campus. President Bush maintained an active role in the university, hosting and participating in special events organized through the library.

Why were the first Universities created? - History

U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
Washington, D.C. 20202-1100

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were established to serve the educational needs of black Americans. Prior to the time of their establishment, and for many years afterwards, blacks were generally denied admission to traditionally white institutions. As a result, HBCUs became the principle means for providing postsecondary education to black Americans.

Today, HBCUs must fulfill educational goals far beyond those initially set. President George Bush described the unique mission of black colleges as follows:

"At a time when many schools barred their doors to black Americans, these colleges offered the best, and often the only, opportunity for a higher education."

Today, thank heavens, most of those barriers have been brought down by the law, and yet historically black colleges and universities still represent a vital component of American higher education.

This pamphlet provides an overview of the historic role, accomplishments, and challenges which face HBCUs as they carry out their unique mission. The information will allow the reader to consider HBCUs as a valid choice in meeting the educational needs of minority and nonminority students. Further, the pamphlet summarizes the efforts of the Department of Education aimed at strengthening HBCUs, while assuring that higher education programs do not discriminate on the basis of race.


Prior to the Civil War, there was no structured higher education system for black students. Public policy and certain statutory provisions prohibited the education of blacks in various parts of the nation. The Institute for Colored Youth, the first higher education institution for blacks, was founded in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, in 1837. It was followed by two other black institutions--Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania (1854), and Wilberforce University, in Ohio (1856).

Although these institutions were called universities" or "institutes" fromtheir founding, a major part of their mission in the early years was to provide elementary and secondary schooling for students who had no previous education. It was not until the early 1900s that HBCUs began to offer courses and programs at the postsecondary level.

Following the Civil War, public support for higher education for black students was reflected in the enactment of the Second Morrill Act in 1890. The Act required states with racially segregated public higher education systems to provide a land-grant institution for black students whenever a land-grant institution was established and restricted for white students. After the passage of the Act, public land-grant institutions specifically for blacks were established in each of the southern and border states. As a result, some new public black institutions were founded, and a number of formerly private black schools came under public control eventually 16 black institutions were designated as land-grant colleges. These institutions offered courses in agricultural, mechanical, and industrial subjects, but few offered college-level courses and degrees.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson established a "separate but equal" doctrine in public education. In validating racially dual public elementary and secondary school systems, Plessy also encouraged black colleges to focus on teacher training to provide a pool of instructors for segregated schools. At the same time, the expansion of black secondary schools reduced the need for black colleges to provide college preparatory instruction.

By 1953, more-than 32,000 students were enrolled in such well known private black institutions as Fisk University, Hampton Institute, Howard University, Meharry Medical College, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Tuskegee Institute, as well as a host of smaller black colleges located in southern and border states. In the same year, over 43,000 students were enrolled in public black colleges. HBCUs enrolled 3,200 students in graduate programs. These private and public institutions mutually served the important mission of providing education for teachers, ministers, lawyers, and doctors for the black population in a racially segregated society.

The addition of graduate programs, mostly at public HBCUs, reflected three Supreme Court decisions in which the "separate but equal" principle of Plessy was applied to graduate and professional education. The decisions stipulated: (1) a state must offer schooling for blacks as soon as it provided it for whites (Sinuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, 1948) (2) black students must receive the same treatment as white students (MacLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 1950) and (3) a state must provide facilities of comparable quality for black and white students (Sweatt v. Painter, 1950). Black students increasingly were admitted to traditionally white graduate and professional schools if their program of study was unavailable at HBCUs. In effect, desegregation in higher education began at the post-baccalaureate level.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education rejected the "separate but equal" doctrine and held that racially segregated public schools deprive black children of equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Plessy decision, which had governed public education policy for more than a half-century, was overturned. Despite the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown, most HBCUs remained segregated with poorer facilities and budgets compared with traditionally white institutions. Lack of adequate libraries and scientific and research equipment and capabilities placed a serious handicap on many. Many of the public HBCUs closed or merged with traditionally white institutions. However, most black college students continued to attend HBCUs years after the decision was rendered.


Soon after the Brown decision, Congress passed Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide a mechanism for ensuring equal opportunity in federally assisted programs and activities. In enacting Title VI, Congress also reflected its concern with the slow progress in desegregating educational institutions following the Supreme Court's Brown decision. Title VI protects individuals from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Passage of the law led to the establishment of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). OCR placed its primary compliance emphasis in the 1960s and early 1970s on eliminating unconstitutional elementary and secondary school segregation in the southern and border states.


Nineteen states were operating racially segregated higher education systems at the time Title VI was enacted. In 1969-70, after intensive investigative work, OCR notified a number of the states that they were in violation of Title VI for having failed to dismantle their previously operated racial systems of higher education. OCR sought, without success, statewide higher education desegregation plans. In 1970, private plaintiffs filed suit against HEW for failing to initiate enforcement action against the systems under investigation by OCR. Their suit is known as the Adams case.

In 1977, as part of the Adams case, a court ordered the federal government to establish new, uniform criteria for statewide desegregation. In response, OCR published criteria specifying the ingredients of acceptable plans to desegregate State systems of public higher education (Criteria). The Criteria recognized the unique role of HBCUs in meeting the educational needs of black students. Accordingly, the Criteria called for the enhancement of HBCUs through improvements in physical plants and equipment, number and quality of faculties, and libraries and other financial support. The Criteria also called for expanding nonminority enrollment at HBCUs by offering on their campuses academic programs that are in high demand or unavailable at the state systems' other campuses. Efforts also were to be made to provide HBCUs with resources that would ultimately ensure they were at least comparable to those at traditionally white institutions having similar missions.

Under the plans accepted by OCR, HBCUs have aimed for desegregated student enrollments and better programs and facilities while retaining or enhancing their historic stature. OCR has monitored the plans to make sure they have been implemented.


Under the plans, substantial progress has been made by many states in desegregation of their state systems of higher education. At the same time, HBCUs continue to be a vital resource in the nation's educational system. Among their accomplishments are the following:

HBCUs have played an historical role in enhancing equal educational opportunity for all students.

  • More than 80 percent of all black Americans who received degrees in medicine and dentistry were trained at the two traditionally black institutions of medicine and dentistry--Howard University and Meharry Medical College. (Today, these institutions still account for 19.7 percent of degrees awarded in medicine and dentistry to black students.)
  • HBCUs have provided undergraduate training for three fourths of all black persons holding a doctorate degree three fourths of all black officers in the armed forces and four fifths of all black federal judges.
  • HBCUs are leading institutions in awarding baccalaureate degrees to black students in the life sciences, physical sciences mathematics, and engineering.
  • HBCUs continue to rank high in terms of the proportion of graduates who pursue and complete graduate and professional training.

Fifty percent of black faculty in traditionally white research universities received their bachelor's degrees at an HBCU.

HBCU graduates include: Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and founder of Bethune Cookman College Charles Drew, physician and medical researcher W.E.B. DuBois, sociologist, educator, and co-founder of the NMCP Patricia Harris, former Secretary, U.S. Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare and Housing and Urban Development Martin Luther King, Jr., recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize Christa McAuliffe, first educator in space Kenneth B. Clark, psychologist Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice Leontyne Price, world renowned opera soprano Louis Sullivan, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and many black political leaders.

Today, there are 107 HBCUs with more than 228,000 students enrolled. Fifty-six institutions are under private control, and 51 are public colleges and universities. The public institutions account for more than two-thirds of the students in historically black institutions. Most (87) of the institutions are four-year colleges or universities, and 20 are two-year institutions. In the past, more than 80 percent of all black college graduates have been trained at these HBCUs. Today, HBCUs enroll 20 percent of black undergraduates. However, HBCUs award 40 percent of baccalaureate degrees earned by black college students.


On April 28, 1989, President George Bush issued Executive Order 12677 to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to provide quality education and to increase their participation in federally sponsored programs. It mandates the taking of positive measures, by federal agencies, to increase the participation of HBCUs, their faculty and students, in federally sponsored programs. It also encourages the private sector to assist HBCUs. The Executive Order is administered by the Department's Office of Postsecondary Education - White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This office also coordinates the activities of 27 federal departments and agencies in implementing Executive Order 12677. These agencies were selected for participation in the program because they account for 98 percent of federal funds directed to our colleges and universities.

Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, authorizes funds for enhancing HBCUs. The statute authorizes the "Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program" and the "Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions Program." Title III is administered by the Department's Office of Postsecondary Education - Division of Institutional Development.

Selecting a college in which to enroll is a very personal choice. However, HBCUs offer a valuable option for minority and nonminority students alike. Some of the factors that make HBCUs attractive include:

Many HBCUs have lower tuition and fees compared to traditionally white institutions. A number also offer a broad spectrum of financial assistance to qualified students and have extensive experience in identifying sources of financial support for deserving students. Financial assistance may come in the form of scholarships, loans, and grants to cover the cost of tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies, personal expenses, and transportation.

Cultural and Racial Diversity

HBCUs often serve students from a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Students interested in the humanities, or in such areas as sociology, psychology, economics, government, urban planning, etc., may find their exposure to a broader range of individuals and their cultures particularly valuable.

Nonresident aliens constitute a large portion of the student enrollment at many HBCUs. A number of foreign students and professors at HBCUs participate in student or faculty exchange programs. In general, HBCUs aim to be sensitive to the needs of foreign students and provide students an opportunity to associate with different nationalities and to learn about cultural diversities. Multicultural exposures are expected to become increasingly valuable as the demographics of the American work force change and America competes more aggressively in the world economy.

Today many HBCUs have a racially diverse students enrollment at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Also, the majority of HBCUs continue to have a racially diverse faculty and administration. HBCUs are presently more racially desegregated, with respect to their enrollment and staff, than traditionally white institutions.

Remediation and Retention

HBCUs may offer a more supportive educational setting for students encountering some difficulty in realizing their full academic potential. HBCUs generally offer a broad range of effective remedial programs for students. Many HBCUs have established developmental centers, reading laboratories, and expanded tutorial and counseling services to accommodate the special needs of educationally disadvantaged students. In addition, a strong commitment by many HBCUs to serve all students has resulted in high rates of graduation.

Traditionally, the faculties at many HBCUs place as much, or more, emphasis on teaching and student service oriented activities as on research. This permits more time for personal and high quality student-teacher interactions. In addition, many teachers at HBCUs have experience in working with minority students and students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Research findings indicate that these factors are important for the academic success of many minority students.

As a result of the desegregation plans approved by OCR under Title VI, many state systems of higher education have placed new high demand programs and curricula-such as engineering, pharmacy, and computer science-at HBCUs.

Students considering options in postsecondary education are faced with one of the most difficult and important choices of their lives. Their decisions should lead to informed selections reflecting the broadest possible range of educational opportunities.

The Office for Civil Rights is committed to equality of opportunity in education. OCR conducts complaint investigations and compliance reviews to ensure Title VI requirements are being followed. Also, OCR supports the efforts to comply with Title VI by offering a program of technical assistance to institutions receiving federal funds as well as to beneficiaries of those funds. If you wish additional information about the OCR compliance program, you may write or phone the OCR regional office which serves your state or territory. The addresses and telephone numbers of the regional civil rights offices are listed below.