Lincoln University of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
The story of Lincoln University of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania goes back to the turn of the century, when two young men—who initially were pursuing their vocation as missionaries in Africa—applied to Princeton University but got denied. This was a catalyst for one of the men named Reverend John Miller Dickey, who began tutoring but then decided to further develop what is now a chartered university. Founded by Rev. Dickey and his wife Sarah Emlen Cresson in 1854, the Ashmun Institute opened its doors in celebration of the Presbyterian Church on its 100th anniversary.
Surrounded by the rolling farmlands and wooded hilltops of southern Chester County, Pennsylvania, Lincoln University’s campus is conveniently located on Baltimore Pike, about one mile off Route 1. That’s about 45 miles southwest of Philadelphia, 15 miles northwest of Newark, Delaware and just 55 miles north of Baltimore, Maryland. Although it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time of its inception, Lincoln University is strategically located. This is a definite plus for its prospective and current students.
Establishment plays important role in African-American history
While the Church played an initial and crucial role in its establishment, an American leader also had a significant impact on the educational institution. The school was renamed Lincoln University in 1866, after President Abraham Lincoln.
But more importantly, perhaps, is how the establishment of this particular university influenced the history of African-Americans seeking a higher education. As Horace Mann Bond, the eighth president of Lincoln University, so eloquently described in the opening chapter of his book, Education for Freedom, this was “the first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent.”
Since its inception, Lincoln has attracted an interracial and international enrollment from the surrounding community, region, and around the world. “Lincoln University, for all of its uniqueness, was founded as the first university for people of color,” explains Dr. Ivory Nelson, president of Lincoln University. During the first one hundred years of its existence, Lincoln graduated approximately 20 percent of the black physicians and more than 10 percent of the black attorneys in the United States. Its alumni have headed over 35 colleges and universities and scores of prominent churches. And at least 10 of its alumni have served as United States ambassadors or mission chiefs. Lincoln is proud to have graduates who are now working in the field of law, as federal, state and municipal judges, as well as those who have served as mayors or city managers.
Human sciences programs attracted famous graduates
The university was an all-male private school when it first opened its doors. However, it began to admit female students in 1952. And then some 30 years later, it became formally associated with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as a state-related, coeducational university. It is a small academic community with currently 2,500 students enrolled in its programs, the majority of which come from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C. “We have 32 countries represented on our campus, coming from Africa and the Caribbean,” tells Dr. Nelson. “We have a very diverse student population; we are about 85 percent black and the rest distributed among many other ethnic groups,” he says.
As the years have passed, the academic curricula also changed. Although the university decided to drop its original theology program, as well as its medicine and law schools, the focus now has been on developing five areas of study. “We have Centers of Excellence, such as education, business, sciences and arts. They have evolved over time as many other universities have,” says Dr. Nelson.
Lincoln is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and offers academic programs in undergraduate study in the arts, sciences, as well as graduate programs in human services, literature, education, mathematics and administration.
The university is most proud of its faculty for the high quality of their teaching, research service and of its alumni, among the most notable of whom are: Langston Hughes, ‘29, world-acclaimed poet; Thurgood Marshall, ‘30, first African-American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; Hildrus A. Poindexter, ‘24, internationally known authority on tropical diseases; Roscoe Lee Browne, ‘46, author and widely acclaimed stage and screen actor; Jacqueline Allen, ‘74, judge for the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia; and Eric C. Webb, ‘91, author, poet and editor-in-chief of Souls of People.
Many of Lincoln’s international graduates have gone on to become outstanding leaders in their countries, including Nnamdi Azikiwe, ‘30, Nigeria’s first president; Kwame Nkrumah, ‘39, first president of Ghana; Rev. James Robinson, ‘35, founder of Crossroads Africa, which served as the model for the Peace Corps; and Sibusio Nkomo, Ph.D., ‘81, chairperson, National Policy Institute of South Africa.
Advancing to the top
The university is deepening its legacy, as it maintains a high reputation for academic standards and continues to prepare quality, well-educated graduates, as it has in the past. “With that in mind, knowing the clientele, we have re-positioned the university to make sure that we continue to reach that accomplishment: educating great, young minds from all walks of life,” says Dr. Nelson. He adds the university’s “curriculum, standards, tools and facilities are in place” not just from an academic standpoint but also from a social standpoint, so that young people are continually attracted to the campus.
Lincoln has made a $300-million investment in its campus renovation and beautification project over the past ten years, which will be completed this year. “About two years ago, we developed a new residence hall and renovating a number of buildings so that it is a place with high standards, a great place to live and study,” says Dr. Nelson.
The current president envisions the student enrollment to go up to about 3,000 students with more than half being undergraduates (2,300) and about 600 to 700 graduates located in downtown Philadelphia on 3020 Market Street. The university is particularly proud of its arts program partnership with the Barnes Foundation, as part of its strategic plan. “It’s one of the main things we’re looking forward to as we go into the future,” he says. The improvements to its Philadelphia campus, in addition to developing a wellness center are also in the works.
With its high reputation for academic excellence, quality programs and facilities, Lincoln University is continuing its strong focus on preparing students for a global society. AB