Let’s Create a National Endowment for HBCUs


by Richard F. America

Editor’s Note: In earlier articles for JBHE, Professor America asked “Can HBCUs Compete?” and then offered views on their transformation in “Rebranding HBCUs.” Now Professor America calls for a national fundraising effort to strengthen historically Black colleges and universities well into the twenty-first century. The views expressed are those of the author. We invite readers to comment on Professor America’s proposals.

Today, there are  about 100 colleges and universities in the United States known as HBCUs. These historically Black colleges and universities have struggled to find permanent financial resources and most cannot compete on equal terms with many predominantly White institutions. As a result, some of the HBCUs are marginal operations, barely able to remain accredited. And even the strongest HBCUs have competitive disadvantages.

Most HBCUs are in the South. All endure financial stress. That is because of long-standing and unjust patterns of adverse financial and budget decisions. HBCUs were harmed by decision makers, who lacked an interest in their success, or were actively hostile, and opposed to their progress. Those hostile to Black educational progress had the political power to cause underinvestment in HBCU programs, physical plants, and faculty.

But HBCUs have provided many positive benefits. HBCUs develop valuable human resources. They strengthen local communities. Many contribute fully to higher education. And the strongest are also mechanisms for investment in research and public service. They improve the flow of professionals into activities in all areas of society. So, to strengthen American society as a whole, and certain, regions, states, and local communities in particular, it is worthwhile to improve the financial foundations of the HBCUs.

Let’s create a National Endowment based on universal fundraising from all African Americans, and many others who are motivated to participate. This could be a project of an existing organization, such as UNCF, or NAFEO. Or it might require a new institution.

The National Endowment could be created with five corporate, individual or foundation grants of $10 million each. A $50 million endowment would be a great start. Then let’s envision a national annual campaign with the expectation that all 40+ million African Americans, –  men, women and children –  will contribute to the fund every year. This would be a new obligation, a personal duty to support these key institutions. Of course not all 40 million African Americans will participate but many may contribute more than $25. But with an average contribution of $25 per person, per year the fund would generate $1 billion each year.

The power of persuasive communication and social marketing can be used to meet the goal. We know how to use language, symbols, and celebrity endorsements, to motivate people to wear seatbelts, stop smoking, prevent forest fires, reduce litter, to eat right, not drink and drive, etc. We have the know how. We can use it to support the HBCUs, too. Creative advertising will be key to supporting the HBCUs.

The challenge is to use all media, and the power of social marketing, to make this a norm, expected from all African Americans as part of their community duty. Unrealistic? Impossible? Perhaps. Perhaps, not.

The National Endowment could be located anywhere. If it were in Washington, D.C., close to the headquarters of many organizations in higher education, it could be managed by one of them.

HBCUs would be invited to compete for annual grants from the National Endowment. They would be able to obtain funds to augment their basic budgets, or specific projects, or both. Another use would be to attract and keep heretofore unattainable high quality faculty and administrators by offering them the kinds of salaries and other financial inducements that have been out of reach to many HBCUs.

Like other grant programs, the process would be competitive, not an entitlement. An independent panel would assess the relative strengths of the grant proposals. The performance of HBCUs on the completion of their grant proposals would be assessed by an independent evaluator.

The incentive to qualify for grants from the National Endowment will be a powerful force to change the vision, mission, strategy, self definition, governance, academic performance, and student success rates of the HBCUs.

With this new resource, HBCUs would be able to compete with all other similarly situated colleges and universities in developing stronger curricula, teaching, research, and community and public service.

Poor performers, who do not change or show improvement, will have difficulty in the competitive grant process.  The National Endowment should not be used to prop up weak schools. The point is to build quality. The goal of the National Endowment is to help HBCUs become much more competitive within higher education as a whole.

Richard F. America is an adjunct professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

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  1. Sounds good in theory but unreal in light of the dismal percentage of giving by alumni owing much of their success to HBCU institutions. If 30% of these graduates contributed to their school what they spend eating out twice a year, there would be no need for your efforts. Until the veil of ignorance is removed in the context of material obsessions coupled with “impressing people”, your task will be difficult. Good luck.

    • WE MUST, we absolutely must do this and more! What has been is just that, has been… What “is,” will/must become “was” , and shall we shall be all that we ARE, only when we DO!

      • I went to an HBCU, attended on a 4 year UNCF Scholarship. I am a member of my local and National alumni chapter. I even co-chaired an event for my local chapter to host an inaugural summer fundraiser, to help with a current student’s tuition.

        A majority of the few chapter members we have decided to cancel the fundraiser because the venue was not to their “impressing people” standards.

        As a result of this, the current student still has not raised any funds toward their outstanding balance, and will be forced to sit a semester out.

        I agree with the comment of if every alum of an HBCU donated the price of a 4-star dinner to their institution. That would help with sustaining our institutions.

    • I agree with what you have stated above. Blacks grads and Blacks folks in general spend more on entertainment, partying and eating out in upscale white restaurants than giving back to their HBCU Member Schools. When will the shift in values change for Black people?
      Black people must do far more to support all HBCU institutions.

    • “We (African-Americans) have never been rehabilitated from Slavery.” We can elect and re-elect an African-American President but we can not give back to the very institutions that afforded the educational opportunities other majority education institutions denied.
      If African-American parents stopped sending their children to NCAA division 1 schools that make $billions of dollars for those majority schools; this conversation would be very different. The ACC has 16 universities with 95% African-American student athletes generating over $500 million dollars per year for 16 universities. The SEC has 16 universities with 95% African-American student athletes generating over $500 million dollars per year for 16 universities.
      If those same student athletes attended HBCU schools, you do the math.

  2. I’m a 2 time HBCU graduate with a strong desire to help my people. As a result of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from the work of my company – Expense Reduction Analysts (www.expensereduction.com), most (if not all) HBCUs are wasting large amounts of time, resources and money that they could be using in other more important areas. Due to this knowledge and experience, it is difficult for me to participate in my hard earned money being wasted at the levels of waste I’ve seen. There was a time when I didn’t know any better but now I do. Also, I approached both the UNCF and NAFEO to see if they were interested in partnership with my company to aid their constituent institutions in providing expertise, time, resources and cost savings but neither accepted. Some may say I’m just trying to make a buck but the fact still remains that HBCUs waste large amounts of time, resources and dollars. How sad…

  3. Wow! Experts from across the country are addressing philanthropic options in a panel discussion on Friday as part of the Texas Southern University National Alumni Association meeting in Dallas.

  4. Many successful African-Americans graduate from HBCUs with more than a little resentment of the incompetence and corruption of the university administrators and faculty they encountered. The arrogance, high-handed behavior and wasteful spending on travel and entertainment of many of the leaders of these academic communities leaves such a bad impression that the reluctance to make contributions to endowment funds is entirely understandable.
    Unless ways can be found to ensure adherence to the highest standards of integrity and professional competence in most of these organizations, the future will not be much different from the past.

  5. As an HBCU graduate, the daughter of two HBCU graduates, the wife of an HBCU graduate, and the sister of an HBCU graduate, I can attest to the academic excellence of the four institutions we represent: Fisk, Morehouse, Lincoln PA, , and Spelman. To use “waste” as an excuse for not giving, is NOT solving the problem. Fisk never lost its academic edge even when its management was horribly, disastrously incompetent. Now Fisk, ( and the alumni attention given it ), has a very successful president who has turned the management of the university around, raised the percentage of alumni giving above the national average, and is still keeping the academic edge! Incidentally, I have a Masters degree from a “Big 10” university which I got by simply repeating what I’d already learned at Fisk. No more of your “intellectual” EXCUSES about waste! Put your money and your efforts toward change by giving back what you had to pay to get!!

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