Big-time moves by NC A&T State University have some people wondering if the Greensboro institution has outgrown its HBCU-ness.
In one sense, A&T has always been big time. It was the second land-grant college to be created from the Morrill Act of 1890, and the first in North Carolina, originating as the Agricultural and Mechanical School for the Colored Race. Its students sparked an actual revolution on Feb. 1, 1960, and they were the first HBCU to send a graduate into space.
Even now A&T is a giant among its HBCU peers, the biggest with more than 12,000 students. It’s the eighth-largest school in the UNC System — big enough, even, that it ranks in the Top 10 of all North Carolina colleges.
In Greensboro, anyone driving through the east side of town can see the trappings of A&T’s growth and success: the Harold Martin Engineering Complex, its newest and most beautiful building at the corner of East Market and Benbow streets. A massive development across the street set to house hundreds of students and dozens of businesses.
And right now, A&T has the best athletic department in the Triad. A&T Track & Field — both men and women — won their MEAC championships last year; two of their sprinters, Trevor Stewart and Randolph Ross Jr., won gold medals in the 2021 Summer Olympics, the first Aggies to do so. They also fielded championship teams in bowling, women’s basketball and volleyball.
Even now A&T is a giant among its HBCU peers.
And then. There’s the football team, which won the MEAC from 2017-19, then transferred to the Big South Conference where they placed third in 2021.
But the MEAC, to which A&T has belonged since it formed in 1970, is an HBCU conference, only for Black schools. And though its winning teams get automatic invites to NCAA championships, it’s operated outside of the aegis of the NCAA.
Now all A&T sports are set to join the CAA Conference, as decided unanimously by the board of trustees this week. And the CAA is a full-on Division I conference with a storied history. For A&T, it represents a glass ceiling of sorts.
But by moving up to the next level, A&T in no way abandons its roots as an HBCU. It just piles more accolades on top of it.
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