ATLANTA (AP) – Two recent high-profile faculty appointments could be a fundraising and enrollment bonus for Howard University, one of the most prestigious black colleges in the country. Many other black schools are not so lucky; in fact, many struggle with it.
Some, especially smaller private colleges, have been struggling to survive for years, with poor facilities, aging buildings, and steady declines in enrollment, all made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“While larger HBCUs often have the financial resources to attract talented talent like Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates, many smaller institutions need donors to move forward and provide the much-needed financial resources for our competition,” said Dr. Paulette Dillard, president of Shaw University, a private black university in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Hannah-Jones accepted a faculty position with Howard amid controversy whether or not she would be given a job at the University of North Carolina after critics questioned her credentials, particularly her Pulitzer Prize-winning work “The 1619 Project,” which traces the country’s history of slavery. Coates, a Howard graduate, is a journalist and best-selling author who recently joined Howard’s faculty.
Billions of dollars in federal virus aid will help higher education, but it may not be enough to change the long-term fortunes of some historically black schools. An analysis of the Associated Press enrollment and endowment data reveals large disparities between 102 historically black colleges and universities and another gap between private and public institutions.
For example, the five richest private black colleges had foundations between $ 73,000 per student and more than $ 200,000, which was well above the median of less than $ 16,000 per student. The largest public black college foundation was less than $ 25,000 per student, though public schools also receive state grants.
Total enrollment at historically black colleges has declined 11% in the last 10 years for which data are available, from 325,609 in 2010 to 289,507 in 2019. Enrollments at some universities have halved over this period, and several administrators said enrollments continued to decline during the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Typically, black colleges also did not have the fundraising skills from other universities. The cumulative endowment of all historic Black Colleges through 2019 was just over 3.9 billion US dollars. That roughly corresponds to the foundation assets of the University of Minnesota alone.
Of those, only eight private black colleges held 54% of the total: Spelman College, Hampton University, Meharry Medical College, Xavier University of Louisiana, Morehouse College, Tuskegee University, the Morehouse School of Medicine, and Howard, which also includes Vice President Kamala. Harris counts among his graduates.
Last summer’s protests over racial injustice brought new attention to historically black colleges and universities and, for at least some, led to an increase in private donations.
Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of former Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, donated $ 560 million to 22 black colleges, including some with very limited endowments, as well as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund, both of which are monies collect for black colleges and universities. Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin split $ 120 million between the United Negro College Fund, Spelman and Morehouse. Former New York City Mayor and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg has pledged $ 100 million to aid students in the four historically black medical schools.
“It enables schools to see the chance to be bigger than they previously thought possible,” said Harry Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Thurgood Marshall Fund.
But many lesser-known schools continue to struggle and scrape for money. Shaw, one of the oldest historically black colleges in the south, has a foundation valued at just $ 8,436 per student and hasn’t benefited significantly from the surge in private donations over the past year, said David Byrd, vice president of finance for the college.
The college is able to “pay the bills” and make ends meet, he said, but still has $ 26 million in deferred maintenance. Shaw and other smaller black colleges that rely primarily on tuition are counting on help from federal coronavirus aid, championed by President Joe Biden and passed by Congress this spring. This aid package will give around $ 2.6 billion to traditionally black colleges, although the Department of Education has not yet announced how it will distribute the money.
Shaw plans to use the money to repair older buildings and dormitories and expand a variety of student services. Federal aid can be used to make up for lost student income during the pandemic, hire more teachers, offer salary increases, and upgrade heating and air conditioning systems.
Wilberforce University in Ohio, another small historically black private college, plans to use its money on pandemic relief in a similar fashion after the government canceled much of the university’s $ 25 million federal debt.
“Bottom line, it’s very beneficial to the faculty, staff, and students at this university because we now have some additional support options,” said William Woodson, financial vice president of Wilberforce.
Student debt is a significant burden on historically black college graduates, and administrators say it hurts enrollment. Limited foundations mean their universities can’t subsidize tuition fees as much as wealthier colleges.
A large percentage of students who have enrolled in traditionally black colleges come from the poorest families earning $ 20,000 a year or less, forcing them to take out loans. Federal figures show that the typical black college grad who has borrowed money owes $ 52,000 in student loans, roughly double what the typical white student owes.
Not only are many black colleges considering more financial aid to students, they are considering using their federal pandemic funds to create campus jobs that generate income for students, offer subsidized childcare, buy personal computers, and pay high-speed students -Devices can support internet connections.
At Shaw, officials hope that renewed national interest in historically black colleges and the role they play could spark excitement for schools with much smaller foundations, between modernizing buildings, closing programs, or making tuition affordable had to decide for their students.
More than 80% of Shaw’s students are eligible for Pell State Scholarships, compared to about 45% of Howard’s students. However, Byrd, the school’s finance officer, said the university had an impact there over the past century and a half: it gave low-income students the tools to find careers and thrive.
He said it was “really hard to predict” how long it will take for the university to recover from the pandemic. Its finances are mostly funded through tuition fees and donations, but the school enrollment rate fell by almost 53% from 2010 to 2019. He mentioned the need for further federal aid or private donations that flow to the smaller schools.
“People think we want a free handout. We have a proven track record of producing a certain type of child for 150 years, ”said Byrd. “Well, it’s not really a handout; it’s an investment. ”
Hudspeth Blackburn reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Fenn answered from New York.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national utility that places journalists on local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.