Historically Black University Receives Record-Breaking Number of Donations

(AP Photo/Jonathan Landrum Jr.)

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are seeing an increased amount of donations over the past year. The rise in funds is believed to be a result of the George Floyd murder as well as other factors.

NPR reported: “The nation’s largest HBCU is having a blockbuster year for fundraising. North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro has raised $88 million since its fiscal year began last summer. That’s almost six times what the university typically fundraises annually — and the fiscal year isn’t even over yet.”

Todd Simmons, the vice chancellor for the HBCU, said: “There has not been a year like that ever in our history.”

He added: “Nor has there been a year like that in the history of nearly any other public HBCU in America.”

NPR also noted that other HBCUs enjoyed a significant increase in fundraising. “The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which advocates for public and private funding for public HBCUs, has reported hefty donations to many of the universities it represents,” they reported.

“It was a record-breaking year,” said Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Harry L. Williams. “We have never, ever seen anything like this for HBCUs.”

Williams explained that donations began to increase from private donors and large corporations last summer amid nationwide protests against the death of Floyd.

“With the social unrest with George Floyd, we have seen an uptick in the amount of support for our HBCUs in this country, and one of the major supporters has been MacKenzie Scott,” he said, referring to the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Scott donated “more than half a billion dollars to more than a dozen HBCUs, including Howard University, Prairie View A&M University and N.C. A&T,” according to NPR, which also reported that “Scott’s $45 million gift to N.C. A&T came with no strings attached, which offered a rare opportunity for university leaders to spend the money as they see fit, rather than abiding by the whims of a donor.”

Some HBCUs have seen decreased enrollment over the past few years. But N.C. A&T has seen a boost in its student body. Simmons noted that the school has the highest number of black engineering graduates than any other university – HBCU or otherwise – in the country.

The increase in donations can also be attributed to HBCUs using different means to attract new donors. NPR noted:

HBCUs tend to have smaller endowments than other institutions. And according to Williams, some HBCUs have decided to put recent major gifts directly into those endowments, in hopes of growing their school’s wealth. A university can then tap into interest earned from their endowment to support scholarships, fund faculty positions and advance its research portfolio.

“Our institutions just do not have those robust endowments that we can lean on when we go through difficult times just like we just went through,” Williams said. “So therefore by investing in the endowment … that is going to help with the sustainability of our institutions.”

HBCUs have also received federal aid as a result of the COVID-19 packages passed by Congress. NPR reported:

The most recent aid package, the American Rescue Plan, set aside nearly $3 billion for HBCUs, tribal colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions — that’s on top of their share of almost $40 billion in higher education relief. President Biden’s American Families Plan, unveiled earlier this week, includes another $46 billion for these schools, though that proposal has yet to make it through Congress.

Williams and others are hopeful that the increased funding will “help raise awareness of HBCUs as a means to invest in Black communities.” The challenge will be to maintain this level of funding.

“We don’t want it to be a one hit wonder,” he said. “We don’t want it to be just ‘Hey, this was one of those outlier years and you’ll never see this again.’ We’re working very hard to keep this as part of the dialogue.”

Perhaps Williams’ hopes might be made into a reality. If HBCUs can replicate this success, it could result in more black college graduates who are able to make it into more lucrative careers. It will be challenging to continue earning the number of donations that the Floyd case generated, but with increased awareness, they might just pull it off.