Let’s Boost HBCUs… Before It’s Too Late
Vice President Harris is a trailblazer in many ways. She is, of course, the first woman to hold national elected office. Thanks to her mixed parentage, she is both the first African American and the first Indian American vice president (the latter is a particular point of pride for me!). Harris is also the highest-ranking elected official in our history who attended a Historically Black College or University.
HBCUs, as they are known, run the gamut from elite private universities like Howard — the Vice President’s alma mater — to large public schools to small liberal arts colleges. There are over 100 in all, and each has served as a pathway into the middle class for thousands of families of color.
Unfortunately, another thing HBCUs have in common is that, compared to their non-HBCU equivalents, they are chronically underfunded. A 2019 analysis by the American Council on Education demonstrated that HBCU endowments trail those of their counterparts by significant margins. In a different study, Professor Ivory Toldson of Howard found that in 2014, Johns Hopkins University alone attracted more funding in the form of federal, state, and local contracts and grants than all 89 four-year HBCUs combined.
Amid our ongoing racial reckoning, the past year has seen increased interest in HBCUs from many quarters. To tackle the disparity in government funding, President Biden pledged on the campaign trail to invest at least $30 billion in HBCUs to improve facilities and establish new research centers. Meanwhile, some of the country’s highest-profile philanthropists have taken note of the role HBCUs play in elevating people of color, collectively donating hundreds of millions of dollars to various institutions in recent months.
The business community can — and must — help too. Here are three examples of concrete commitments that companies could make now to help HBCUs and their grads in the long term.
1. Donations. The 2019 ACE study found that HBCUs enjoy significantly lower rates of private giving than their non-HBCU peers — at public HBCUs, for example, private sources account for just 1% of revenue on average. A donation to an HBCU can therefore be more meaningful to the institution, dollar for dollar, than it might be elsewhere.
2. Lobbying. Getting the President’s funding plan through Congress, like doing anything in the legislature these days, will not be easy. Companies should use their influence on Capitol Hill, whether alone or via trade associations, to help the plan at least get an airing.
3. Skills. As I have written, practically all American colleges could stand to focus more of their attention on giving students the skills they need for the workplace. Companies could take the initiative here and reach out to help HBCUs design a curriculum to make their grads more attractive to employers.
Whatever form the action takes, I believe the business community has a duty to act. This Black History Month, what commitment will your company make?