Many colleges, particularly smaller private colleges have struggled for survival for many years with weak endowments and aging buildings, as well as steady enrollment declines. All of this was made worse by the coronavirus epidemic.
Dr. Paulette Dillard is the president of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. She stated that while larger HBCUs may have the financial resources to attract talented talent such as Nikole Hannah Jones and Ta-NehisiCoates, smaller institutions need donors to help them compete.
Hannah-Jones accepted a Howard faculty position amid controversy about whether she would be granted tenure. This was after critics raised questions about her credentials, particularly her Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The 1619 Project," that traces America's history with slavery. Howard graduate Coates is a journalist, best-selling author, and recently joined Howard's faculty.
Federal virus relief funds of billions of dollars will benefit higher education but may not be enough for some historically Black schools to improve their long-term prospects. A Associated Press analysis of enrollment data and endowment data reveals wide disparities between 102 historically Black colleges, universities, and a further division between public and private institutions.
One example: The five most wealthy private Black colleges had endowments that ranged from $73,000 per student to over $200,000, which is far more than the median $16,000 per student. Although the state also provides aid, the largest endowment at a Black college was less that $25,000 per student.
The overall enrollment at historically Black colleges fell 11% over the most recent 10-year period. It dropped from 325 609 in 2010 and 289 507 in 2019. Some campuses saw enrollment drop by half in that time span. Administrators also said that enrollments fell further after the coronavirus pandemic.
Black colleges don't have the same fundraising abilities as other universities. Through 2019, the cumulative endowment of all historic Black colleges was just over $3.9 billion. This is almost equal to the University of Minnesota's endowment.
Only eight black colleges held 54% of that total: Spelman College and Hampton University, Meharry College, Meharry Medicine College, Xavier University of Louisiana. Morehouse College, Tuskegee University and the Morehouse School of Medicine, Howard. This school counts Vice President Kamala Hariri among its graduates.
Protests against racial injustice last summer brought back attention to historically Black colleges, universities, and led to an increase in private donations.
Mackenzie Scott, ex-wife to Jeff Bezos was a donor of $560 million to 22 Black colleges. This included some that have very small endowments. Netflix founder Reed Hastings and Patty Quillin split $120 million between the United Negro College Fund and Spelman. Michael Bloomberg, a former New York mayor and entrepreneur, pledged $100 million to student aid at four historically Black medical schools.
"It's allowing schools to see that there is more to them than they thought," stated Harry Williams, chief executive of Thurgood Marshall fund.
Many lesser-known schools struggle to make ends meet and continue to struggle for funds. Shaw, one the oldest historically Black colleges of the South, has a modest $8,436 per student endowment and didn't benefit from the private giving wave last year, according to David Byrd (college's vice president for finance).
He said that the college can "pay the bills" and make ends meet, but has $26 millions in deferred maintenance. Shaw College and other small Black colleges, which rely on tuition for their survival, are counting on federal coronavirus relief that President Joe Biden championed and approved by Congress this spring. The aid package will provide approximately $2.6 billion in financial assistance to historically Black colleges. However, the U.S. Department of Education is yet to announce how the money will be distributed.
Shaw intends to use the money for repairs to older buildings and dormitories, as well as expanding student services. Federal aid can be used for tuition reimbursement, to hire more faculty, pay raises, and to upgrade heating and cooling systems.
Another small, historically Black college in Ohio is Wilberforce University. It plans to use the pandemic relief money in the same way after the government forgives a lot of its $25 million federal debt.
"The bottom line is that it's very beneficial for the faculty, staff, and students at this University, because now there are some additional opportunities to support them," stated William Woodson, Wilberforce financial vice president.
Administrators say student debt is a major problem for graduates of historically Black colleges. Their campuses don't have the same endowments as wealthy colleges, so they can't pay tuition as heavily as other colleges.
Many students at historically Black colleges are from the lowest income families. They make less than $20,000 per year, and they have to borrow. According to federal figures, the average Black college graduate who borrowed money owes $52,000 of student loan debt. This is roughly twice the amount that a typical white student owes.
Many Black colleges have begun to offer more financial aid to students. They are also considering using federal pandemic money for work-study jobs on campus, where students can make income, provide child care, purchase personal computers, and pay for high-speed Internet connections.
Officials at Shaw hope that renewed interest in historically Black colleges, and their role, could inspire enthusiasm for smaller schools with lower endowments who have had to make tough decisions about whether or not to update buildings, close programs, or keep tuition affordable.
Shaw undergraduates are eligible to receive federal Pell Grants at a higher rate than Howard students, which is more than 80%. However, Byrd, the school’s financial officer, stated that this is also where the university has made an impact over the past century and half: providing low-income students with the tools they need to succeed in their chosen career.
He stated that it was "really difficult to predict" how long the university will be able to recover from the pandemic. Tuition and donations are the mainstay of its finances, but enrollment has fallen by almost 53% between 2010 and 2019. He spoke out in favor of continued federal aid and private donations to smaller schools.
People think that we are looking for a handout. Byrd stated that we have a 150-year track record of producing certain types of kids. It's not a handout, but an investment.