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Closing the HBCU Funding Gap
A recent Bloomberg panel discusses the reasons for dramatic funding gaps between HBCUs and their White counterparts - and what can be done to close them
There is a dramatic gap in funding between Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their White counterparts. As part of a recent Bloomberg Live panel event, the presidents of Spelman College, Dillard University, and Prairie View A&M joined with the Global Head of Corporate Engagement & President of Goldman Sachs Foundation to present Changing the Narrative: Raising Awareness About Unequal Funding for HBCUs. The discussion unpacked the reasons for this gap - and they did not disappoint.
Moderated by Brett A. Pulley, the Atlanta Bureau Chief at Bloomberg, the panelists described under no uncertain terms the funding challenges that HBCUs face, what must be done to overcome them and why it matters.
Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, President of 1890 Land Grant University Prairie View A&M explained that “[f]or much of our history, we were thought to be less than. We are still living with the legacy of that.”
As Dr. Simmons described, Predominantly White Institution (PWI) colleges and universities have benefited not only from preferential treatment in state funding, but they also cater to wealthier students who go on to become their funders and donors. HBCUs serve students that come from families that have been denied the ability to accrue wealth and reside in lower income brackets. The fact the Black students and their families are not steeped in wealth translates into less funding. This lack of funding from the alumni population has compounded year after year for generations. President of Dillard University Dr. Walter Kimbrough noted that “[w]e are underfunded schools that serve underfunded students.”
She also explained that while some HBCUs are private, many are state universities that fall victim to discrimination from their respective legislatures. Prairie View A&M is in Texas. The Texas legislature is not only unsupportive towards the plight of Black students and the institutions that serve them, but their approach can range form apathetic to hostile. The panel also discussed the fact that in Tennessee, for example, the state failed to meet its funding obligations to HBCUs from 1957 – 2007 to the tune of half a billion dollars. In Maryland, HBCUs have been underfunded by $2.7 billion - recently, however, a recent settlement resulted in $577 million to Maryland HBCUs. When it comes to HBCUs, state governments often become more of an obstacle to support than a consistent source of funding.
Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, the President of Spelman College also explained how discrimination in corporate funding patterns exacerbate the gaps between PWIs and HBCUs. Predominantly White institutions are approached more frequently by corporations looking for partnerships with colleges and universities, they are gifted with long term funding, and there are less restrictions placed on what these institutions can do with the money they receive. On the other hand, HBCUs have to go above and beyond to find corporate support, they are often only given short term and episodic funding, and the restrictions placed on these finances can render them meaningless to the institution.
Dr. Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M, described how HBCUs need to directly confront those who under-finance and over-restrict their contributions. The difference between the ways White and Black institutions are funded is “ … tantamount to continuing the mistreatment of African American institutions and we have to stand up to them and say, ‘That won’t do.’”
This tactic is working. Google, for example, initially sought to partner with HBCUs using the traditional discriminatory funding formula. After negotiations with HBCU leadership, they have committed unrestricted gifts of $5 million to ten institutions so they can put the funding where they believe it is needed most. Billionaire McKinsey Scott is similarly offering unrestricted funding to a number of HBCUs.
The returns on their investments stand to be dramatic. As Dr. Campbell observed, “despite the wealth gap, we do have assets that show up in the form of faculty …. of alumni … and in the students themselves. When we do get financial investments, the return is tremendous.”
Partnerships between corporate funders and HBCUs isn’t just a one way street. Historically Black Colleges and Universities can and should serve as pools of talent for these corporate donors, and heavyweights in the private sector like Goldman Sachs are doing more than taking notice. According to Global Head of Corporate Engagement and President of the Goldman Sachs Foundation Asahi Pompey, the recruitment of employees is not only a publicly stated priority at Goldman Sachs, but it is codified in its formal hiring policies. As part of these efforts, they are also working with students as early as their freshman year to begin the process of “demystifying Wall Street” and teaching them how to navigate the financial landscape.
There is much work to be done to close the funding gap between PWIs and HBCUs. While steps are being made, there are many more that should be taken. There is a role we can all play in ensuring that HBCUs are consistently receiving the support they need. Dr. Simmons believes that the community also must step up and do it’s part. She added that “[HBCUs] belong to us. It is our duty to support them. I’d like to see every person that has benefitted from HBCUs to make a commitment. Not enough of us are giving.”
As so, it will take a collaboraitve mix of the community, the government, and the private sector to close the funding gaps that leave HBCUs struggling to catch up to their white counterparts. But if this work gets done, as Dr. Kimbrough describes, “the return on investments would be staggering.”