Private HBCUs Should Be Receiving the Majority of Large Private Gifts

Before I get into my explanation, I should let it be known that I am a proud Fort Valley State University alumni and a s

Before I get into my explanation, I should let it be known that I am a proud Fort Valley State University alumni and a staunch public HBCU advocate.

Photo by Blogging Guide on Unsplash
Before I get into my explanation, I should let it be known that I am a proud Fort Valley State University alumni and a staunch public HBCU advocate.
There has been a lot of buzz and spotlight on HBCUs this year as racial tensions have yet again erupted in America. This has led to substantial donations by private benefactors to a select few HBCUs. Patty Quillin and Reed Hastings donated $120 millionMackenzie Scott donated upwards of $200 million, and the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis(CFGM) gave a $40 million endowment. Up until this week when Ms. Scott announced a new round of donations to HBCUs, bringing her total contributions to $560 million, each of the HBCUs that had been beneficiaries of these transformational donations was private HBCUs, and besides the donation by the CFGM, each institution was ranked in the U.S News Top 10 HBCUs. It is no coincidence that the institutions receiving funding were private and it has everything to do with how HBCUs receive funding. However, these donations, especially by Ms. Scott and Mrs./Mr. Quillen/Hastings has seen a general response by the HBCU community along the lines of “This is great but there are 100 more institutions who could also use the money.
I have written extensively on the fact that the donations should be spread out to more institutions, but the fact they are predominately going to private HBCUs first is the right move.
To frame my argument, I am going to draw from a few of my previous articles. I have already explained the differences between public and private HBCUs. In short, private HBCUs since their inception have always had a large portion of their financial support provided by black church groups and/or white philanthropists. Take Spelman College, for example, if you examined their history you would find that white philanthropy has been a significant part of their institution’s development. Spelman is named after John D. Rockefeller’s wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. In examining the history of other private HBCUs you will see that many have similarly been supported and propelled by (white) philanthropy.
Pulling the financial data from the present-day you will see that Private HBCUs still rely heavily on private gifts/grants and subsequent investment returns, in the same manner, that public HBCUs rely on State Government support. Since private HBCUs see substantially less federal and state aid, private gifts and investments are essentially their state aid.

When the landmark Brown vs Board decision came down and declared segregation of schools to be unconstitutional, both public and private HBCUs were hurt by the decision. It is well-documented that the integration of schools has caused HBCU enrollment to decline it is often not discussed that the decision also caused a sharp decline in outside support for HBCUs. Many white philanthropists concluded that since blacks could now attend integrated universities, HBCUs were no longer necessary. Questioning the value of HBCUs is an issue all HBCUs still face and we often catch ourselves having to explain their value to those who have not attended our institutions. For private HBCUs, the loss of support meant that the funding they had been receiving since their inception was pulled from under them. This is a reason why I believe private HBCUs are the institutions that have had to shut their doors in recent years as they struggle to garner outside support and compete in a competitive higher education landscape. This is also in part why I labeled the CFGM endowment to LeMoyne-Owen as the most transformational HBCU gift.
The fact that there has been a surge in private benefactors and philanthropy to HBCUs is a welcome sight and I hope it means that private HBCUs will be able to get back an essential funding source they have been missing for half a century. My biggest worry is the private HBCUs that have been affected most by the abandonment of private philanthropy, the LeMoyne-Owen’s, the Bennett College’s, will continue to be excluded and continue to face extinction.
To reiterate, I am not opposed to Public HBCUs receiving sizable private donations as it is the task of University/Institutional Advancement departments to forge those relationships, I do think the fact that Public HBCUs have an extra substantial funding source should be taken into account by private benefactors. Of the 24 HBCUs that have received sizeable donations from these benefactors, 10 HBCUs have been public, but it is critical to note Ms. Scott’s contributions make up all the public HBCU donations. (10(43%) of her HBCUs have been public). The state of public HBCU funding is largely caused in part by the continued negligence of our Federal and State governments since these institutions' inception. In the same manner, there has been a surge in private philanthropy, there should be a similar surge in governmental aid to HBCUs, that would overwhelmingly benefit public HBCUs. The passing of the FUTURES Act is a step in the right direction but public HBCUs are owed so much more. Additionally, one area of philanthropy I believe to be fair game to both public and private HBCUs is corporate philanthropy. A good example of corporate philanthropy benefitting both institution types is the recent $35 million donation by Dominion Energy that was split by 11 HBCUs(a mix of public and private institutions).
All in all, while I agree there has not been enough due diligence done in sourcing the institutions to receive these benefactors' large donations, the fact that the donations have gone predominately to private HBCUs is the right move. Private philanthropy has been in the blood of private HBCUs since their inception. We, as public HBCU alumni and supporters, should continue to solicit donations from benefactors but more importantly force our lawmakers to hold our government accountable for over a century of negligence to our institutions. As it relates to the surge in private donations, we should continue to root for benefactors to spread the wealth amongst the deserving HBCUs, even if the donations end up predominately going to private HBCUs. All HBCUs are facing an uphill battle, let us continue to uplift all aspects of our community.

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