Michigan’s First HBCU To Reopen as ‘Majority Tuition Free’ Design School

In Summary

Michigan is reopening its first-ever historically Black college and university, and this time it will be educating students with a twist. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed legislation to restore Lewis College of Business in Detroit, which was Michigan’s first historically Black college and university in the early 1900s. 

Under the guidance of D’Wayne Edwards, the founder of the Pensole Design Academy in Portland, Oregon, the college, which closed in 2013, will now be transformed into the design-focused PENSOLE Lewis College of Business. 

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In a statement, Whitmer said, “I am proud to play a part in helping reopen the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design in Detroit,” adding he is “committed to expanding educational opportunities for Michiganders across our state to put Michigan first.” 

The PENSOLE Lewis College of Business and Design petitioned in October for legislative permission as Michigan’s lone HBCU, with the goal of becoming the nation’s first-ever re-opened HBCU. 

“The Lewis College of Business was first created in 1928 as a secretarial school for Black women. After relocating to Detroit in 1939, it became a critical source of economic impact for the city’s Black community,” Edwards said at the time. “GM, Ford, and Michigan Bell hired their first Black office employees from the school. 82 years later, and 14 years since it lost its accreditation as HBCU, I am honored to be resurrecting Violet T. Lewis’s legacy in Detroit.” 

Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design, which will serve aspiring Black creatives, designers, engineers, and business leaders, is set to open in 2022. 

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Edwards said the college would not award degrees like traditional colleges and will be “majority tuition-free,” with companies covering students’ tuition and living costs. 

“Today moves us forward to another major step in continuing [Violet T. Lewis’] legacy with the support of our founding partners College for Creative Studies, Target, and The Gilbert Family Foundation,” he said. 

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