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It’s All About the Benjamins

 It’s All About the Benjamins

Colleges and universities, to their credit, are raising more money than ever. I must receive a few press releases a week from schools announcing either their record-breaking fund-raising results or that they are about to launch a capital campaign.
For the average person, it is difficult to conceive that schools are raising billions of dollars, and that approximately 40 colleges and universities have endowments in the billions. Many universities have accelerated their fund-raising efforts, recognizing that competition for philanthropic dollars is growing, while federal and state contributions to higher education institutions are declining.
Still, even the top fund-raising schools say raising money is not easy. For historically Black colleges and universities, the fund-raising game presents unique challenges.
Since most HBCUs began as land-grant institutions, few did any fund raising until the latter half of the 20th century, as the percentage of state funding began to shrink. Among the private HBCUs that did raise funds, many have had small development staffs, and alumni giving has not always been strong. Another challenge HBCUs confront is public opinion.
“Public opinion on Black colleges seems to change,” says Dr. Thomas Cole, president of Clark Atlanta University. “You think you’ve convinced people of the value of Black colleges, then you find you have to reconvince them.” (see story, page 18).
Not only can public opinion impact an institution’s bottom line, it also can influence a school’s ability to attract students and faculty. This is true for HBCUs and traditionally White institutions alike. The University of Louisville has found that a program that benefits the local African American community and at the same time supports the school’s academic mission can go a long way toward improving the university’s reputation among groups on and off campus. The university’s “Our Highest Potential” program, launched earlier this year, was established to create up to eight new endowed chairs or professorships in academic areas that match the university’s strengths with African American community needs. This could be a model for other colleges and universities that are looking to diversify their faculty ranks while also developing a visible way to demonstrate their commitment to diversity (see story, page 25).
Recently, Black Issues ran an article that talked about the data reported in the Census 2000 (see Black Issues, June 7, “Is Higher Education Ready for Minority America?”). The article suggests that the increasing browning of the U.S. population is expected to add tint to the complexion of American college campuses in the next decade.
With this anticipated influx of minority students, some higher education officials are concerned about the financial aid picture. Dr. Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, says the changing demographic profile of students will require a larger investment in financial aid programs.
“This is a time when American philanthropy could make a huge difference,” says Dr. Michael Lomax, president of Dillard University. Raising money to ensure adequate financial aid packages and student scholarships seems to be high on the priority list of universities embarking on campaigns. HBCUs have always done more with less, adds Saint Augustine’s College president Dr. Dianne Suber. Hopefully, there will come a time when HBCUs, and not just a handful, will be in the position to do more — with more. 

Hilary Hurd

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