HBCUs in the Mainstream: How money is key to keep them relevant

Nicole Pechacek | Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

When looking for colleges, many students may know about schools in their regions or maybe even schools that family members attended. They may have heard of Ivy League schools such as Yale or Harvard and may even strive to go there. 

However, HBCUs are slowly gaining more relevance, and more and more students, even non-Black ones, are considering going to them. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are institutions that were created for the purpose of giving Black people access to higher education. 

However, they have been relatively hidden from the wider American consciousness. But in the past 10 years, their names, including our beloved Hampton University, have been spread across the nation. To keep them alive, alumni and students have to share their stories and donate. 

This and more were discussed at Hampton University’s Homecoming event, HamptonYou Live: Endowment Giving at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

With Associate Vice President for Development Felicia Blow hosting, a large panel of HBCU alumni and supporters gathered to discuss why endowments and donations from current students and alumni are key to keeping the doors to Hampton open. 

One reason why these donations are so important is because they help fund not only faculty but also public service missions as well. 

Endowments have very specific guidelines, and while it changes per school, they tend to allocate as much money as they can to trouble areas without too much risk. Some advantages of endowments that were listed included attracting highly qualified students, higher quality of learning for a lower price and more support for programs and events.

However, the issue is that HBCUs get significantly less funding than other universities and colleges, especially in comparison to Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). The experts involved with this panel explained why HBCUs seemed to be falling short when it came to money and why some closed entirely. Panelists suggested that although HBCUs have recently received large donations from the likes of individuals such as Mackenzie Scott, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, the key to keeping HBCUs open and running is not large donations every once in a while but rather smaller donations from students and alumni. The steadier donations a university has, the better it is for its survival. 

However, this is easier said than done. While it is doable, the reason why donations are not as frequent at HBCUs compared to PWIs is because of the wealth gap between blacks and whites. 

Black people have only recently obtained large amounts of capital compared to whites. Statistically, many are not as rich as white people on an average basis. Even so, if planned out correctly, steady donations can be done to keep HBCUs open. 

Another reason as to why endowments are so infrequent is because some people are discouraged from even attending HBCUs. 

Many guidance counselors in high schools seldom mention HBCUs to students as an option, because they are not as well known compared to the Ivy Leagues and Big 10 universities. Some even actively discourage it due to misrepresenting the purpose of an HBCU.

During the event, a story was told about how a Black athlete would take calls from universities with his coach. However, when an HBCU called, he said he would rather get his hands chopped off than talk to them. 

Because of blatant lies and disrespect, HBCUs are still seen as less valuable options when compared to other universities, so people, especially non-Black people, do not want to donate to them. However, as Michael Owens, a panelist and a member of the Columbia Investment Management Company, stated, “We can’t wait on White America to save our HBCUs.” 

While many schools are still getting steady endowments from alumni and companies that are interested in working with them, HBCUs need to focus on gaining more money in order to succeed and stay relevant in America.

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