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by Antonio Ellis, Your Black World
Over the past two decades, it is no secret that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) financial management has plummeted. For example, in the late 1990s, Morris Brown College experienced a mass amount of debt that resulted in its loss of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2002. During that time, the college president, Deloris E. Cross resigned while under criminal investigation for her mismanagement of institutional finances. Reportedly, the college owed the city approximately $380,000 in delinquent bills that were nearly five years old. On December 15, 2008, the city suspended water services at the school with threats not to resume classes the following semester if the enormous debt was not paid. Once the college was deeply in debt with little time to cover expenses, supported attempted to react. Unfortunately, they were not proactive before the college was on a downward spiral with little chances of surviving. Once an institution loses accreditation, it is extremely challenging to regain it. Not having accreditation hinders a college or university ability to get financial support from the government. During the year 2002, enrollment decreased from 3,000 to 240 students.
Other HBCU’s including Bennett College, Benedict College, Fisk, and Florida A&M University is just some of several Black institution of higher learning who is experiencing hardships. The explanation of the financial crisis among HBCU does vary. It is duly noted that HBCU’s are significantly underfunded by the Federal Government, receiving far less financial support that other colleges and universities. In addition to a lack of federal funding, HBCU’s also suffer with institutional challenges such as poor financial management, administrative dishonesty, increasing tuition cost, decreasing enrollment, misallocation of funding, and the lack of alumni donations.
For example, in 2002, federal agencies spent $41.6 billion overall for institutions of higher learning, while only $1.7 billion was spent for HBCU’s, an alarming 4 percent. Black institutions are also crippled by inadequate endowments. The National Association of College and University Business Officers contends that the best endowed HBCU is Howard University, which ranks 132nd in the nation with $371 million. They also reported that the combined endowment for all 105 Black colleges throughout the country is only 1.6 billion, in comparison to Harvard University endowment which is $19 billion.
Another HBCU is currently in a risky financial situation. Throughout the month of May 2012, South Carolina State University (SCSU) Trustee Board has been meeting in haste regarding the universities $5.3 million deficit. The rationale for this tragedy is no different from the downfall of any other HBCU. Falling enrollment, mismanaged government funding, financial disarray, inconsistent leadership, disgruntled students and non-supportive alumni are included in the list of reasons for SCSU deficit.
Some university community members contend that “the university’s financial future is bleak”. The Board has decided that raising tuition is less likely to be considered as an option, while they are brainstorming multiple options to cut the budget. Possibilities includes cuts to majors, non-revenue sports, administration, furloughing, and even decreasing the number of students in the world famous SCSU Marching 101 Band, which is arguably the largest attraction at the university. In the midst of the turmoil, the university is continuing their search for an interim president. Dr. John H. Corbitt, acting chairman of the Board of Trustees said “I want everyone to know that the University will continue to move forward.” According to reports, the candidates include Dr. Ivan Banks who currently serves as the provost at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, Dr. Cynthia Warrick who is a senior fellow at the Howard University School of Pharmacy, and Dr. Leonard McIntyre is an associate professor at SCSU.
My intention in the piece is not only to illuminate the challenges of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I also aim to challenge HBCU alumni to ensure that their institutions are priority and that administrators are consistently held accountable. Traditionally, HBCU alumni spend thousands of dollars at annual extravagant homecoming celebrations, tailgates, celebrity stunted parties, among other festivities that are made available during homecomings. I urge HBCU alumni to consider donating portions of that homecoming social activities money to their institutional endowment fund. The majority of HBCU’s only ask for twenty-five dollars per year for alumni dues. When was the last time you paid your alumni dues? How much did you pay to get into the parties at your last homecoming? The goal for alumni should be to make institutional sustainability priority over loud music, dancing, and the consumption of alcohol. After the music halt and fellow classmates go back to their separate destinations, there are a remnant of minority students that choose lean heavily HBCU’s to receive a quality and competitive education. Will the HBCU’s alumni financial contributions ensure that these institutions exist for decades to come?
This article is not suggesting that HBCU alumni sacrifice all recreational activities for the sake of financially supporting their institution; however, it is urging alumni not to catch selective amnesia regarding providing at least minimal financial support directly to their college or university. As we clearly see in throughout this article, Historically Black Colleges and Universities need alumni support in order to keep the doors from closing. What are you doing to save Historically Black Colleges and Universities?