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The Precarious Future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

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Unread 08.18.19, 12:45 PM
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The Precarious Future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

On 08.18.19 11:34 AM posted by Armstrong Williams

It has been an open secret for several decades that thewriting is on the wall for most historically black colleges and universities.

Since 1989, eight historically black colleges anduniversities have closed because of lost accreditation or bankruptcy. Thereasons are myriad, but principally because these institutions no longercommand a monopoly on attendees created by de jure segregation. For the pasthalf-century, they have had to compete for students among mainstream public andprivate institutions, as well as for-profit educational institutions.

But the changing market dynamics do not tell the entire story,especially because some historically black colleges and universities such asHoward University, Morehouse College, and Fisk University continue to thrive ina competitive landscape.

As a graduate of South Carolina State University in theearly 1980s, I can attest to the quality of the education available there.Although I came of age when many colleges and universities in the South hadbegun to accept black students, many of us attended traditionally blackcolleges because there were ready pathways through those institutions to attainspecific, job-related skills and gain entree to jobs in corporate America or tograduate programs at Ivy League universities.

But over the ensuing years, enrollment at South CarolinaState has declined, meaning it receives a smaller share of federal governmentsupport and, critically, a smaller share of support from privatephilanthropists, such as the scholarship I’ve endowed in my mother’s name tosupport training for future media professionals.

South Carolina State is a success story in that it retains acompetitive advantage in preparing black students to enter the media field–afield in which blacks, especially at the ownership level, remain woefullyunderrepresented.

But my experience is unique in some ways.

Several of my close friends–notably, successful entrepreneurs Logan Delaney, who served as a board member of Saint Augustine’s University, and Ambassador Harold Doley, who served on the board of Shaw University (both in Raleigh, North Carolina)–saw the writing on the wall but were unable to change a culture of institutional insularity that tends to permeate the leadership of some historically black colleges and universities.

These college leaders insisted on living in the segregated past. Notably, this meant that administrators, teachers, and trustees were more focused on preserving their prestigious positions within the local black community than on finding a strategy to compete in an integrated marketplace for students and philanthropic support.

Some of their board members attempted to persuade administrators to consider merging with other institutions, marketing themselves to students of other races and creating specialized offerings (in information technology, for example) tailored to the local economy.

But the administrators wouldn’t hear of it.

As it stands, few historically black colleges and universitieshave a viable strategy for competing for students and philanthropic money in anintegrated world. Lacking a strategic vision for increasing tuition revenue anda strategy for enhancing philanthropic support, most focus instead on trying tocompete for a dwindling pool of government funding.

But almost all forms of government money have stringsattached. While such liquidity in the short term can be beneficial, reliance ongovernment grants creates long-term obligations that often are difficult orimpossible to fulfill in the absence of independent sources of funding.

Sadly, Saint Augustine’s chose to pursue government-matchinggrants that required the college to raise an equal amount of private funds.Lacking a sustainable alternative fundraising source, Saint Augustine’s soondefaulted on the government contract, and the feds asked for their money back.

In the absence of broad alumni and philanthropic support,and failing to qualify for government funds, many historically black collegesand universities find themselves stuck in a slow death spiral of decliningenrollment and declining quality of product.

How can they turn this around?

The solution is to realize that educational institutions areessentially businesses that exist to serve a market demand: producing workerswith marketable skills. Of course, they also serve a broader function asrepositories of knowledge, history, and culture. But they cannot fulfill thelatter if they do not take care of the former.

Firstly, historically black college and universities mustcompete for philanthropic dollars by justifying the return on philanthropicinvestment.

Global philanthropy has undergone a significant transformationin recent years from a staid, somewhat collegial world of planned gifts to acompetitive environment in which donors want to see a measurable social impactfrom their philanthropic efforts.

The key word here is “measurable.” It is one thingto talk up the wonderful history and legacy of a historic institution, butquite another to track and quantify the results it produces.

How many students who enroll actually graduate within fiveyears? How many obtain jobs within six months of graduation? What is theaverage salary of a graduate, by academic major? What is the cost-per-graduateto produce these outcomes? What percentage of the alumni base gives back to theinstitution?

Without transparent, quantifiable answers to thesequestions, it is often difficult for mission-driven philanthropic organizationsto justify making large donations to historically black colleges anduniversities. The sad thing is it would not take much for these institutions toactually develop the administrative infrastructure to track these dynamics.

In fact, they do not have to do it alone.

With their similarities in student profile and funding base,historically black colleges and universities should be in an advantageousposition to create a shared administrative infrastructure. Ostensibly,organizations such as the United Negro College Fund should foster innovation andefficiency among their member schools. But sadly, it, too, has succumbed to thesiren song of insular elites, who soon will go the way of the chiefs of theBantustans in post-apartheid South Africa.

The United Negro College Fund presently has several hundredmillion dollars in unrestricted funds that belong to the schools, but theorganization–which pays its CEO over $2 million in salary–refuses to releasethese funds to its constituent colleges and universities. The 60,000 studentsof these institutions of higher education are owed this money.


The post The Precarious Future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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