Is Howard University An Ivy League School? – A Closer Look

The Ivy League conjures images of elite students strolling iconic, ivy-covered campuses in pursuit of excellence. But this athletics conference of 8 private Northeastern universities represents more than just academic prowess and selectivity. It is embedded in the very fabric of American history and prestige. So when asking whether Howard University, an esteemed historically Black university (HBCU), qualifies for such vaunted company, there is much to unpack. While Howard boasts strong academics and notable alumni, its distinct history and focus set it apart from the Ivy League ethos.

The Storied History of the Ivy League

The Ivy League‘s origins date back to the colonial era when the first universities were chartered on the East Coast to serve the sons of well-to-do families. The actual term "Ivy League" came into common usage in the 1930s when a sports conference formed between eight prestigious Northeast colleges: Yale, Harvard, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, and Cornell.

Over time, as these elite institutions grew their reputations for nurturing the nation‘s leaders in politics, business, and academia, "Ivy League" evolved beyond athletics. It became shorthand for academic excellence, selectivity, and pedigrees.

Common Traits of Ivy League Universities

Despite differing personalities and strengths, some shared hallmarks bind these storied universities:^1

  • Longevity: Ivy League institutions were all founded between 1636 and 1769, many before the United States even existed. Their longevity speaks to their influence in shaping intellectual life.

  • Selectivity: With acceptance rates between 4-9%, gaining admission to these schools is extraordinarily competitive. Ivy Leagues admit less than 10% of applicants on average each year.^2

  • Academic Rigor: Faculty are leaders in their fields. The undergraduate curriculum focuses on liberal arts education while over 100 areas of study are offered across graduate and professional degrees.

  • Generous Aid: Undergraduate aid averages $57,000 per student annually, allowing admittance based on merit rather than affordability.^3

  • Powerful Alumni: Graduates include U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, Fortune 500 CEOs, Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, Olympians, and more.

  • Research Prowess: The Ivy League collectively performs over $5 billion in annual academic research.^4 Resources enable students to participate in cutting edge projects.

This combination of longevity, selectivity, rigor, prestige, and resources is what sets the Ivy League apart in the world of higher education.

Demographics of Ivy League Schools

A look at student demographics shows the Ivy League‘s exclusivity in terms of wealth and race:

  • Over 50% of students across Ivy League universities come from the top 5% highest-earning U.S. families.^5

  • African American and Hispanic enrollment remains below 10% on average at Ivy League Schools.^6

Such demographics reflect the Ivy League‘s traditional role – to educate America‘s white, wealthy future leaders. While diversifying, progress remains gradual.

Howard University‘s History as an HBCU

Howard University‘s founding tells a very different story. Established in 1867 and named for General Oliver Howard, an instrumental civil rights leader, Howard was founded specifically to educate newly freed slaves after the Civil War.

From the outset, Howard University‘s purpose was providing advanced education to Blacks who were barred from White institutions. Segregation meant few choices existed for African Americans pursuing higher learning – Howard filled that void.

Over its 150+ year history, Howard University has conferred more than 120,000 degrees and remains one of the top historically Black colleges/universities (HBCUs) in America.^7 It carries on its mission of empowering minority students across every discipline.

Howard University Today

Howard now enrolls over 10,000 students within its 13 schools and colleges.^8 Competitive admissions, esteemed faculty, academic rigor, and successful alumni make Howard a leader among HBCUs today.

  • Selectivity: Howard maintains a 32% acceptance rate, admitting just over 1/3 of applicants.^9 Competition for the approximately 15,000 applicants annually is steep.^10

  • National Rankings: Howard is ranked #80 in National Universities by U.S. News, on par with revered institutions like Clemson and Pepperdine.^11

  • Academic Programs: Renowned for law, medicine and social work, Howard offers over 120 areas of study across sciences, engineering, arts, humanities, education and more.

  • Distinguished Faculty: Howard faculty include Fulbright Scholars, Guggenheim Fellows, MacArthur "Genius Grant" winners and leaders in their respective fields.^12

  • Successful Alumni: Howard has educated generations of Black luminaries in law, government, arts, science, academia and more, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

  • Research Expenditures: Howard conducts over $15 million in academic research annually. Ongoing projects include cancer disparities, cybersecurity, nanoparticle drug delivery, Africana studies, and more.^13

Howard inspires Black excellence – it is ranked the top national university for African American students by College Consensus.^14 However, Ivy League membership remains beyond its grasp.

Why Howard is Not Ivy League

Howard clearly delivers academic rigor, selectivity, successful graduates, and research depth on par with revered institutions. However, key differences remain that still firmly differentiate it from the Ivy League.

Historical Legacy

As outlined earlier, the Ivy League holds deep colonial roots and a legacy of educating America‘s white elite class. Howard, founded after the Civil War specifically to serve freed slaves, naturally falls outside this history.

Membership Criteria

The Ivy League conference has precise criteria for membership defined by its Council of Presidents. These include:^15

  • Location within Northeastern U.S.

  • Status as private university (Howard is public)

  • Long academic history

  • Demonstration of academic excellence

  • Athletics conference participation

Try as it may, Howard remains boxed out from joining due to geography, public status, and conference affiliations.

Campus Culture

Stark differences exist between HBCUs and the Ivies in campus culture, class sizes, and community feel:

  • Student Body: Howard‘s demographics are nearly opposite those of Ivy League schools – over 90% African American enrollment.^16

  • Campus Life: Howard fosters a tight-knit, affirming culture celebrating Black heritage. Ivy League campuses lean traditional, Waspy, and privileged.

  • Class Sizes: Howard‘s student-faculty ratio is just 12:1 with an average class size of 20 students.^17 Ivy League ratios range from 6:1 to 10:1 but lower division courses can swell to the hundreds.^18

  • Tuition and Aid: Howard‘s total cost hovers around $30,000 annually whereas Ivy League schools average $60,000 per year.^19 While aid abounds in the Ivies, socioeconomic diversity remains lacking.

Such differences inform the feel of the student experience. Howard‘s HBCU environment offers community, small classes, and empowerment to minority students in a way the Ivies cannot replicate.

Conclusion: Howard‘s Vital Role as an HBCU

While the Ivy League confers academic esteem, Howard University holds its own vital place in higher education. It provides intellectual haven for Black scholars whose voices have historically been marginalized. Through its mission of access, diversity, and empowerment, Howard advances educational equity and inspires leadership in arenas from arts to public policy.

So while Howard does not bear the Ivy League label, its legacy as a top-tier HBCU is perhaps more profound. Beyond academic merits, Howard changes society by fostering Black excellence against the headwinds of systemic oppression. It will continue educating generations of students eager to dismantle barriers and ascend to greatness.


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