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Black History Month: Prairie View A&M University (1878-)

February is Black History Month. Throughout this month The Royal Gazette will feature people, events, places and institutions that have contributed to the shaping of African history

Prairie View A&M University, the first state-supported college in Texas for African-Americans, was founded as part of the post-Civil War effort to restructure education in the state. It is the second oldest state-funded institution of higher education in Texas.

In 1876, the Texas legislature mandated separate higher education opportunities for African-Americans. Two years later the Alta Vista Agricultural & Mechanical College for Coloured Youths opened its doors.

The school’s original curriculum was the training of teachers, but in 1887 it expanded to include agriculture, nursing, arts and sciences, and mechanical arts. The school became a land grant school in 1890 and in 1919 began offering baccalaureate degrees. In 1932, the college initiated graduate programmes in agricultural economics, rural education, agricultural education, school administration and supervision, and rural sociology.

After the Second World War, the Texas legislature changed the name of the school to Prairie View A&M College of Texas and required that all courses available at the University of Texas at Austin be available at Prairie View as well.

In 1972, the legislature changed the name again to Prairie View A&M University and strengthened the bond with the University of Texas, making it an independent unit of the Texas A&M University System.

Several more legislative measures, including a state constitutional amendment in 1984, strengthened the University’s standing as a part of the state-sponsored higher education system by including it as a beneficiary of the Permanent University Fund, the main source of state funding for all University of Texas schools.

The legislature also recognised the special role of Prairie View A&M as a historically black college and university that served “students of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds”.

Prairie View A&M University today is a successful research institution. The school offers more than 50 undergraduate majors, 37 master’s degree programmes and four doctoral degree programmes in education, electrical engineering, juvenile justice and clinical adolescent psychology.

The university has about 6,000 undergraduate students and 2,000 graduate students, and over the course of its 139-year history, Prairie View A&M has awarded about 46,000 degrees.

Sources: Prairie View University official website, http://www.pvamu.edu; Julian B. Roebuck and Komanduri S. Murty, Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Their Place in American Higher Education (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1993); Marybeth Gasman and Christopher L. Tudico, eds., Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Triumphs, Troubles, and Taboos (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)