ATLANTA (AP) – Two recent appointments of top professors could be a fundraising and enrollment boon for Howard University, one of the most prestigious black colleges in the country. Many other black schools are not so fortunate; in fact, many are in difficulty.
Some, especially the smaller private colleges, have been fighting for their survival for years, with low endowments, aging buildings and steadily declining enrollments, all made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“While larger HBCUs often have the financial resources to attract accomplished talent like Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates, many smaller institutions need donors to come forward, providing much-needed financial resources for us. allow it to compete, ”said Dr. Paulette Dillard, president of Shaw University, a private black university in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Hannah-Jones accepted a professorship at Howard amid controversy over whether she would be tenured at the University of North Carolina after critics questioned her credentials, especially her award-winning work Pulitzer “The 1619 Project”, which traces the history of the country with slavery. Howard’s graduate Coates is a bestselling journalist and author who also recently joined Howard’s faculty.
Billions of dollars in federal virus relief will help higher education, but that may not be enough to change the long-term fortunes of some historically black schools. An Associated Press analysis of enrollment and staffing data shows large disparities between 102 historically black colleges and universities, and an additional divide between private and public institutions.
For example, the five richest black private colleges had endowments ranging from $ 73,000 per student to over $ 200,000, well above the median endowment of less than $ 16,000 per student. The largest endowment for a black public college was less than $ 25,000 per student, although public schools also receive state aid.
Overall enrollments at historically black colleges have declined 11% in the most recent 10-year period for which data is available, from 325,609 in 2010 to 289,507 in 2019. Enrollment on some campuses has fallen by half during that time, and several administrators said registrations had dropped. further during the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Typically, black colleges also lack the fundraising capacity of other universities. The cumulative endowment of all historic black colleges through 2019 was just over $ 3.9 billion. This is roughly equal to the University of Minnesota endowment alone.
Of that amount, 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, Morehouse School of Medicine and Howard, which has vice president Kamala. Harris among his graduates.
Last summer’s protests against racial injustice brought renewed attention to historically black colleges and universities and led to an increase in private donations, at least for some.
Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of former Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, gave $ 560 million to 22 black colleges, some with very limited endowments, as well as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund, both of which fundraise. 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 for student aid at the four historically black medical schools.
“It allows schools to see the opportunity to be bigger than they ever thought they were,” said Harry Williams, President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall Fund.
Yet many lesser-known schools continue to struggle and scratch for money. Shaw, one of the oldest historically black colleges in the South, has an endowment of just $ 8,436 per student and did not benefit much from the wave of private donations last year, said David Byrd, vice -president of college finances.
The college is able to “pay the bills” and get by, he said, but it still has $ 26 million in deferred maintenance. Shaw and other smaller black colleges that rely primarily on tuition are counting on help from the federal coronavirus relief championed by President Joe Biden and passed by Congress this spring. This aid program will send about $ 2.6 billion to historically black colleges, although the US Department of Education has yet to announce how it will allocate 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 tuition income during the pandemic, hire more teachers, offer salary increases, and modernize heating and air conditioning systems.
Wilberforce University in Ohio, another historically black small private college, plans to use its pandemic relief money in the same way, after the government forgave much of the $ 25 million in debt. federal university.
“In summary: This is very beneficial for the faculty, staff and students of this university as we now have additional opportunities for support,” said William Woodson, vice president of finance at Wilberforce.
Student debt is a big drag on historically black college graduates, and administrators say it’s hurting enrollment. Limited endowments mean their campuses can’t subsidize tuition as much as wealthier colleges.
A large percentage of students enrolled in historically black colleges come from the poorest families, those earning $ 20,000 a year or less, forcing them to borrow. Federal figures show that the typical black college graduate who has borrowed money owes $ 52,000 in student loan debt, about double what the typical white student owes.
In addition to giving more financial aid to students, many black colleges are considering using their federal pandemic money to create on-campus study jobs through which students can earn income, provide education services. subsidized child care, buy personal computers and help students pay for broadband. internet connections.
At Shaw, officials are hoping for a revival of national interest in historically black colleges, and the role they play could spark excitement for schools with much smaller endowments that have had to choose between upgrading buildings, closing programs, or maintaining. affordable tuition fees for their students.
Over 80% of Shaw’s undergraduates are eligible for Federal Pell Grants, compared to about 45% of Howard’s students. But Byrd, the school’s financial officer, said this is also where the university has made an impact over the past century and a half: giving low-income students the tools to find careers and succeed.
He said it was “really hard to predict” how long it will take the university to recover from the pandemic. Its finances are mostly driven by tuition fees and donations, but enrollments fell nearly 53% from 2010 to 2019. He cited the need for continued federal aid or private donations that trickle down to small businesses. schools.
“People think we want handouts for nothing. We’ve been proven to produce a certain type of kid for 150 years, ”Byrd said. “So it’s not really a handout; it is an investment.
Hudspeth Blackburn reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Fenn reported from New York.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.