Since before the start of the Civil War – long before the average higher education institution began accepting students of all races and ethnicities – historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have offered members of the black community the opportunity to earn a college education. Yet today, many students are drawn to the flexibility of an online education – regardless of their race. Though there are currently more than 100 historically black colleges and universities, do any of them meet the need for fully online degree programs that allow students to balance multiple priorities?

How Many Historically Black Colleges Offer Online Degrees?

There’s no need for underrepresented students to choose between the flexibility and convenience of distance learning and the cultural and educational experience of earning a degree at a historically black college. Today, more than one-quarter of all historically black colleges offer at least some fully-online degree programs that allow busy students to complete their coursework on their schedule. Some of the HBCUs most highly ranked by publications like U.S. News & World Report – like Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia – are among the institutions offering 100 percent online degree programs.

Progress has been slow, but it’s moving in the right direction. In 2006, only 12 HBCUs offered online degree programs, according to U.S. News & World Report. By 2010, that number had climbed to 19. The year 2012 saw a total of 24 such colleges, Inside Higher Ed reported. The end of 2013 brought a jump up to 27 schools, or 25 percent of all historically black colleges. Experts believe this slow increase is similar to trends among all private colleges.

Why Choose an Online Degree From a Historically Black College?

Both modern and historical features play a part in the reasons historically black colleges “matter in today’s America,” according to independent news media The Conversation. Historically, these schools have played a crucial role in “the journey toward black liberation within America,” The Conversation reported – and their continued existence can contribute to the emergence of leaders who will make progress in the ongoing quest for true racial equality in the United States.

The data proves that historically black colleges and universities play an important role in modern education. A full 25 percent of all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees awarded to African-American students come from HBCUs, according to minority education organization UNCF. Many of these institutions also work to make a college education more affordable – with students graduating at “less than half the cost” compared to other four-year schools, UNCF reported.

Students who want to combine the liberating and leadership-focused culture of a historically black college with the flexibility of online learning may have to do some research to find the right school for them. However, with more HBCUs “inching toward the Internet,” as Insider Higher Ed put it, finding the perfect HBCU for your online education should become an easier task with time.