Will Cash-Strapped HBCUs Survive?

Be it from the government, private sector or alumni, some schools need an intervention. And fast.

Courtesy of Dillard University
Courtesy of Dillard University

Broadly, Wilson said, “We’re pushing a message of urgency. There is an urgent need to strengthen these institutions now. That’s a message we have not just for government, for federal agencies, but it’s a message we have to the private sector, even and especially HBCU alumni.”

Finding the Funds

While all alumni giving hovers around 14 percent nationally, the rate is roughly 9 percent at HBCUs. Spelman College, one of the top-tier HBCUs, has attained a rate of 40 percent as part of a protracted campaign. But that example is an exception more than the rule.

“We’ve not done a good job of putting people in the mindset of giving back,” said Fayetteville State University trustee Terence Murchison, a Fayetteville alum who also attended elementary school on that North Carolina campus.

Relatively new to its board of trustees, he is among those pushing for the college to redouble its fundraising efforts. Fayetteville State this year hired a new vice president and an associate vice chair for its office of institutional advancement. It’s launching a campaign to raise more than $12 million from private donors. “The point is that that should be our fifth capital campaign in the last 15 years, not our first,” Murchison said. ” … It just comes down to public institutions like ours, over the years, becoming very reliant on funding from the state and federal governments.”

But state aid alone dropped from $80 million last year to $67 million this fiscal year. “Public institutions like ours are now struggling with how we can balance the equation, without losing faculty and staff, without overloading them with students, while still scheduling classes in such a way that students can continue to graduate on time,” Murchison said. “How do we restructure ourselves so that we become a fundraising, money-raising organization?”

“That’s the holy grail,” Wilson said. Private, institutional donors are more likely to support colleges with strong alumni support.