In the April 2019 article, “Historically Black Colleges Locked in Fight for Survival,” writers Kurtis Lee and Jaweed Kaleem report on Bennett College’s decline in enrollment and dwindling endowments, although the overall story points to a much larger problem for HBCUs nationwide: many are in deep financial peril. Some face loss of accreditation and/or closure; for Bishop College and Leland University, for example, one or both scenarios have already happened.
“Bennett, one of two all-women’s historically black colleges in the country, could be on the verge of closure. Years of financial woes have led recently to a federal court battle over its accreditation, without which the future of any college is dim,” Lee and Kaleem write.
Similarly, the writers report, “The nation’s oldest historically black college, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania — founded in 1837 — has fought to keep its accreditation. It’s trying to raise at least $4 million to stay afloat. Three HBCUs have closed since 2000.”
Founded to serve the African American community, HBCUs have graduated countless prominent leaders such as ground-breaking Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; prolific writers Toni Morrison and Langston Hughes; pivotal educators and activists Booker T. Washington and Marian Wright Edelman; journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates; and hundreds of engineers, scientists and healthcare professionals.
For Glenda Glover, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated and president of Tennessee State University, the preservation of these treasured institutions is of chief importance. Under her leadership, the sorority has established an endowment for nearly 100 HBCUs. The plan is to donate more than $10 million in the next four years.
In March, she gathered 32 HBCU presidents at AKA’s headquarters in Chicago for a ceremonial check presentation where several schools received the first payouts from the fund.
“When I became president, I wanted to ensure we had a program to address the sustainability of HBCUs,” she shared in a recent interview with The Network Journal. “So, we set out to find ways to assist our schools financially, and help with their marketing efforts. This is AKA’s call to action.”
According to Glover, the sorority raised $1.2 million in one day. “We contacted our 200,000 members and asked them to please raise money for HBCUs, and they delivered,” she says.
The first round of checks totaling $1.6 million was distributed to one-third of the nation’s 96 four-year HBCUs. Checks were granted to those in dire need of funding – Bennett College and North Carolina Central University, among them.
Phase 2 will largely include corporations that will want to know, says Glover, what fundraising has been done internally. “We are proud of what our alums have accomplished in Phase 1. Phase 2 is happening now. We are partnering with other companies to seek funds from the corporate sector,” she explains.
Despite AKA’s heroic efforts coupled with the Congressional Black Caucus’ influence in getting the Lands Package passed to fund the HBCU Preservation Program, HBCUs will likely remain subject to historical, inequitable state funding and bottom-line racist lending practices, although, according to Education Dive, there’s new legislation on the horizon that will give HBCUs more flexibility in federal funding.
Inside Philanthropy .com contends that HBCUs have small asset bases and can’t gain access to the kinds of investment strategies available to schools with multibillion-dollar endowments. University of Pennsylvania Professor Marybeth Gasman summed it up when she told Bloomberg, “Wealth begets wealth. This is the same thing that happens with HBCUs.”
Phase 3 of AKA’s endowment initiative will take place in 2020.
(NOTE: To date, Howard University and Spelman College are among the HBCUs that receive the largest donations. Howard’s largest donation is $578 million. Spelman has received $86 million from Leonard & Louise Riggio; $37 million from the estate of DeWitt Wallace; $30 million from Ronda Stryker & William Johnston; and $20 million from Bill & Camille Cosby.)