Despite diminished endowments and decreased donor and public support undermining the finances of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) this past year, Black schools can pursue a number of strategies to restore their fiscal health, a panel of business and investment professionals told Black college leaders at the annual HBCU Week conference in Washington, D.C. During the Monday workshop, “Methods to Strengthen Fiscal Capacity,” experts told some 50 Black college officials that HBCUs can survive and thrive despite the economic downturn that plunged the nation into a deep recession late last year.
William F. Jarvis, a panelist and managing director of the Commonfund Institute, said HBCU endowments suffered catastrophically with them falling on average from 28 percent to 30 percent during the past academic school year. He noted that when endowments gifts are down, campuses rein in their spending. Commonfund has a long history working with HBCU and HBCU organizations.
“Gifts can make a difference,” Jarvis said.
Panelist James C. Bates, the president and chief executive officer of the New York-based Destination Hotel Partners, LLC., said HBCUs have tremendous potential as business partners of companies that can invest in the campuses the schools occupy. For example, Bates’ company develops hotels on college campuses around the U.S. and the company is currently partnering with four HBCUs on projects that are under development.
Bates said through the joint partnership a campus–based hotel can generate millions of dollars for an institution. He said net income from campus hotels are split equally between Destination Hotel Partners and the host institution. Campus-based hotels also provide internships and culinary art programs for students.
“We’re here to support the schools and specifically HBCUs,” Bates said. “We want to be an integral part of your school. We stay in the deal. Think of it as an endowment.”
Bill Thomas, an audience member at the workshop and the associate vice president in the Office of Governmental Relations at Hampton University, said there needs to be more investment in HBCUs.
“If you don’t have capital, you don’t have anything,” said Thomas, a former banker.
Thomas said the solution to the problem is funding and fairness. He said when HBCUs lack sufficient endowments they are unable to have the financial flexibility to take advantage of growth opportunities. Despite the tough times exacerbated by diminished endowments, Thomas noted that HBCUs have largely benefitted from the Obama administration’s stimulus funding programs.
Having opened on Sunday, HBCU Week continues through Wednesday. More than 1,000 attendees representing the nation’s 103 HBCUs are registered to participate and learn about federal opportunities.
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