The HBCU Advantage, Part I: A Lesson in Thriving While in Dire Financial Straits
Today, most Historically Black Colleges and Universities fight financial ruin as they struggle to find their new position in today’s integrated world. Getting the funds to not only survive, but blossom, is an exercise in creativity—and HBCUs are up to the challenge. Want to know how? This chapter covers some of their latest undertakings.
Why HBCUs love donations (hint: it’s not the money)
Stephen A. Smith, best known for his work on the ESPN show “First Take,” plans to give $250,000 to his alma mater, Winston-Salem University. According to Journalnow.com, Smith is dedicated to aiding the school he loves.
Smith made the announcement during a fundraiser for Winston-Salem where he pledged to give $50,000 per year for the next five years to the school.
While speaking, Smith said that HBCUs need assistance and that he and other alumni should step up to the plate to help the schools thrive.
“A lot of HBCUs are hurting financially, but I’m here to tell you they are needed in a big way.”
Smith was a big hit at breakfast, and his announcement regarding his generous donation came as a shock to the university. Smith did not mention it ahead of his speech, apparently, and so the sounds of shock in the room were genuine. Elwood Robinson, the school’s chancellor, was left speechless because he was unaware that Smith planned to give so much back to the school at one time.
“But to do what he did and back it up like that and it’s just tremendous. It just speaks of the commitment he has to this university, and it goes back to what Big House Gaines taught so many of his players and students, and that’s to give back,” said Robinson.
Big House Gaines was Smith’s basketball coach when he attended Winston-Salem, and because of Smith’s generosity towards his former school, he was inducted into the Big House Gaines Hall of Fame.
I think what Smith did is admirable and will hopefully set the stage for other HBCU alumni to donate to the schools that helped them reach success. With so much competition for education available, it’s important that HBCUs are supported both in spirit and in tangible funds by the people they have graduated.
It’s not just alumni donations that are welcome. Donations from outside organizations seem to be popular as well.
One church was certainly generous with its gifts
Many students headed to Historically Black Colleges and Universities this fall received fantastic going away presents from Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. It gave away more than $2 million in scholarships to high school students on their way to HBCUs later this year.
The event held at T.C. Williams High School, the school made famous by the movie Remember the Titans starring Denzel Washington, hosted the 14th annual HBCU College Festival where more than 3,000 students, parents, and volunteers attended.
More than 60 HBCUs were represented at the festival, and many students attained full ride scholarships to an HBCU.
Over $40,000 in application fees were waived, and in addition to the full scholarships given, close to 170 students received merit scholarships on site.
With over 5,000 students registered to attend, the event was the largest in the festival’s history. While students from Virginia were there, others came from areas such as Florida, New York, Illinois, and other places.
It was, to say the least, a resounding success. The event showed why HBCUs are so important and how the community may come together for a great cause.
Some students who received scholarships and money for college at the event may have received a once in a lifetime opportunity as the cost of college tuition, and fees continue to rise.
State legislators have cut into budgets for higher education, and Congress has attempted to curtail the available dollars for Pell Grants.
But the great news for students who may see a bleak future due to current events is that we still have organizations and churches that are willing to provide support for students who need it, and for those who deserve it.
Next year’s festival is likely to be just as successful, and with more than $2 million given out in scholarship money this year, hopefully, more is handed out in 2017.
Let’s look at another donation given to support HBCU excellence
Duke Energy is putting its financial support behind Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
By way of Prnewswire.com, the energy giant gave a grant of $35,000 to the North Carolina organization The Institute to supports its new HBCU Leadership Exchange.
A non-profit that supports business diversity, The Institute will soon launch the HBCU Leadership Exchange to help support and forge relationships between corporations and students enrolled at HBCUs in North Carolina.
In short, The Institute’s new program will look to connect students at HBCUs with jobs in corporate America. It’s not a bad program to build as diversity within the corporate field–specifically technology–is always a hot button topic.
The Institute has a track record of aiding minority business development as the group offers services to assist the growth of small businesses. As The Institute has been around for more than three decades, the HBCU Leadership Exchange is starting off with strong backing.
Also–Duke Energy gives close to $30 million in grants each year in areas such as education, economic development, the environment, and much more.
But this new program has potential to serve a grand number of black students. While the grant from Duke Energy isn’t substantial, it at least gives The Institute a portion of the starting funds needed to help launch the program.
With no reason to believe that the exchange will not have success, Duke Energy will likely to continue to provide financial support that will only grow in the future.
As mentioned previously, the goal of this new exchange is to foster relationships between corporations and HBCU students.
Students who are looking for jobs in a specific area will likely be paired with mentors or given the opportunity to meet and greet leaders from certain industries.
With growth and limitless potential on the horizon, students at HBCUs in North Carolina should be excited about this new venture.
Here’s something interesting about the nature of these donations: they’re not just about helping the schools stay afloat. A lot of money goes to help students go to school, preparing the next generation of students for the workforce. Notice also the donation to The Institute, where the eventual goal is better-represented leadership in corporate America. The money that is being used to further HBCU causes is an investment in tomorrow, rather than a means to survive today. There’s something admirable about this.
Is the government finally on board? Government support increases
In recent years, it seems like HBCUs have been dwindling into obscurity. They have been fighting potential obsolescence as more black students choose to attend predominantly white universities. To stick around, they have needed to rebrand themselves or establish the kind of reputation that keeps students dying to attend. Unfortunately, many schools have been unable to do this and have faced de-funding and closing.
But it seems as if recently, the government is realizing just how important these institutions are.
For example, to advance the goals of HBCUs, North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams has introduced the HBCU Innovation Fund Act. The bill would create a fund that would make the availability of $250 million in grants open to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
To improve viability, student achievement, rates of graduation, enrollment figures, and more, the accessibility of grant money to HBCUs would help to push them towards modernization.
As HBCUs continue to receive press regarding how some schools are doing financially, and if segregation regarding offered programs occurs, it is refreshing to see that all HBCUs may receive a boost if this bill passes.
The legislation, H.R. 4857, was lauded by the United Negro College Fund as innovative and has over 15 co-sponsors in Congress.
If the bill passes, it will open HBCUs up to more than just money and opportunity. Grant money would be used to help remodel certain courses and create new programs. As with the new Queer and Cultural Studies program being offered at Bowie State University, more programs of this nature may be cultivated through HBCUs if H.R. 4857 is passed.
There will be more opportunities for inclusion and recruitment, and retention efforts will certainly increase.
Some HBCUs struggle to maintain strong enrollment numbers, particularly in a culture where online learning often replace on-campus initiatives. This bill would hopefully help many HBCUs create stronger programs to go after more students.
But more than anything, this legislation would make HBCUs more competitive in an educational environment that has changed. Some schools have failed to keep up, through no fault of its own, and some are beginning to fall behind.
Stemming that tide and keeping HBCUs around so that more students of color are served, and the cultural importance of each school is maintained, an HBCU fund for innovation and is needed and welcomed.
It may be a while before the HBCU Innovation Fund Act makes its way into law. Fortunately, there will also be more immediate funds available for HBCUs over the next fiscal year.
According to Salisburypost.com, funding for the federal program that provides financial assistance for HBCUs will increase nearly $400 million. That’s good news for some of the country’s oldest universities and trailblazers for providing a college education for everyone.
“The omnibus spending bill provides a $22 million increase for the Title III Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities program administered by the U.S. Department of Education, providing the largest funding boost for the program in six years. As a result, total program funding will increase to $387 million in Fiscal Year 2016.”
The new money included in the spending bill will continue to help some of these schools recruit new students, replenish endowments, and perhaps most important, buy cutting-edge technology.
United Negro College Fund CEO Dr. Michael Lomax believes that this funding will work towards making HBCUs more attractive to new students and said as much in the Salisburypost.com article. I share Dr. Lomax’s belief that HBCUs need to be protected as part of the important college landscape in America.
For the past couple of years, the HBCU category of schools has been under increased scrutiny due to financial reasons and because some schools have been forced to close. There has also been some criticism that the very roles HBCUs were created to take on are not as relevant in today’s diverse college population. I’d argue that the first problem can see potential improvement with federal funding and a bigger cash influx from alumni, private donors, and business partnerships. I’d also argue that though the primary role of HBCUs has evolved, they are more relevant than ever and we should continue to support them.
While increased funding will not cure each and every problem that HBCUs have, it will alleviate some of the financial pressure that some schools face – so I think this funding is a step in the right direction.
Creative ways HBCUs are generating revenue
Many institutions of higher education are looking to carve new avenues to create revenue.
Howard University is no exception—except that it has stumbled across something old to inject new money into the university.
Jair Lynch Real Estate has entered into a deal with Howard University to develop Meridian Hill dormitory into luxury rentals available to the general public.
The move will ease some of the financial pain the school has felt over the years. An idea first pitched by Howard President Wayne Frederick a couple of years ago; the school finally pulled the trigger on the deal this month.
According to Washingtonpost.com, Howard will still own the property and required Jair Lynch to pay an upfront fee of $22 million for the rights to redevelop the property.
Over the past few years, Howard’s financial health has come into question as the school’s credit has been downgraded twice and the school’s staff has been reorganized or cut.
To contend with those issues, Frederick identified the school’s real estate as a way to drive new income. Valued at over $1.5 billion, Howard has a lot to review regarding what it may sell or lease.
But Frederick and school officials aren’t ready to sell off everything. Taking their time to evaluate what’s in the school’s best interest, they don’t seem to be in a rush.
Every move hasn’t been met with open arms. The school has decided to enter into an FCC auction for its airwaves that may bring in upwards of $461 million. That would mean that Howard would rid itself of WHUT-TV; a sale that is sure to upset alumni and students.
The decision to enter into the auction isn’t final as the school has until March to decide if it still wants to participate. Howard may decide to opt-out as there is no guarantee that it will receive a value of $461 million for its airwaves.
I applaud Howard’s decision to tap the resources it already has to stabilize revenue, and it will be fascinating to see what sort of interest is sparked for the luxury apartments.
Overall, it’s great to see how much support HBCUs are getting, and how much effort the colleges themselves are putting into being their best yet. While it’s true that we are in challenging times for HBCUs, the moves HBCUs and their supporters are making will ensure that these challenges are merely growing pains, rather than the end of the road.