Cash-Strapped HBCUs Seek a Lifeline

Historically black colleges and universities are turning to creative solutions to financial woes.

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“It is shameful that you have an institution over 100 years old and have alumni who could not rally together and get $250,000 to save the institution,” he said. “I blame us for that. That’s absurd.”

To assist schools with federal funding, President Barack Obama established the White House HBCU Initiative in 2010.

“The initiative is important,” Executive Director George Cooper told The Root, “because President Obama wants the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Historically black colleges and universities will contribute to reaching this goal because they provide an educational opportunity for about 300,000 graduate and undergraduate students.”

Over the last five years, Cooper said, all universities have seen about a 28 percent reduction in support from states. To help fill that gap, he said, Obama would like to see 5 percent of federal resources allocated to HBCUs.

“Our challenge is to work with federal agencies to identify their program priorities and then work with HBCU presidents to look at their goals to make a marriage so that we can create funding streams,” he said.

Taylor applauded the White House HBCU Initiative, saying that its primary goal is to ensure that federal agencies are spending money with the HBCU institutions at a level that's comparable to what they spend at majority institutions.

“You can look at what various agencies spend at Johns Hopkins University, and then you have Morgan State and Bowie State [both HBCUs in Maryland] around the corner, and federal funding is not even close,” Taylor said. “So that office has as one of its major responsibilities to go about and look for opportunities to support HBCUs.”

Private companies such as Wells Fargo are already playing a role in building the schools’ finances, said Georgette Dixon, who is senior vice president and director of national partnerships, government and community relations for the bank. She is a graduate of Tennessee State University, an HBCU in Nashville, where Oprah is also an alumna.

The bank has pledged to provide $3 million to the United Negro College Fund for scholarships over the next three years. Separately, the bank provided about $1.7 million for scholarships to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund over three years.

“We said, let’s make a significant investment that lasts over a range of years or cycle of years so that we can see movement that the organization can really dive into meaningful programs and get some metrics on the back end,” she told The Root. “The greatest benefit of these scholarship programs has been helping students to attend those colleges and universities. It’s important for our youth, so its success is important to us.”