Solution to the HBCU Crisis: Alumni Must Give Back

It’s no secret that I am a proud alumnus of Morgan State University, and beyond blessed that my alma mater saw fit to name the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management in recognition of my accomplishments and contributions since graduating 50 years ago. Also, I have been a consistently steadfast and vocal champion of all historically black colleges and universities over the years, including past service on the trustee boards of both Tuskegee University and Howard University. In that spirit, I’m taking this time to send a critical message to HBCU alumni, and all who are connected to and have benefitted from an HBCU:

Our schools are in crisis, and they can’t be saved without an annual contribution from you.

Annual alumni contributions make up the literal life’s blood of colleges and universities, and they are even more critical to HBCUs. Annual alumni giving is key to funding the endowments that provide for infrastructure maintenance and expansion, funding scholarships and other financial aid, technology upgrades, attracting and retaining top administrators and faculty, and more.

However, according to the results of a survey of HBCU alumni giving published by U.S. News & World Report earlier this year, the average giving rate of participating schools was only 11.2%. That means barely one out of every 10 alumni bothers to make an annual contribution to their alma mater, or any HBCU. The report represented a stark contradiction of the outpouring of passion and enthusiasm exhibited—and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent—by alumni at HBCU homecoming festivities in the months following the release of the survey.

There were only four HBCUs that supplied data where the alumni giving rate exceeded 30%: Claflin University (where 47.7% of all alumni made a financial contribution to the university in the 2013–14 and 2014–15 academic years), Spelman College and Bennett College (both with alumni giving rates exceeding 35%), and Lane College. Of the next six schools with the highest rates of alumni giving, the average highest giving rate is less than 23%. You can imagine how low the levels of alumni giving are at the remaining HBCUs that responded to the survey—including two where the giving rate was only 2%.

Let me be blunt: If this does not change, the vast majority of HBCUs will not survive. These institutions are too critical to the progress and advancement of African Americans, and the best interests of our entire nation, for us to allow these schools to fail.

It’s important to understand that while major contributions to HBCUs by prominent African Americans such as Oprah Winfrey, Tom Joyner, Janice Bryant Howroyd, Hank Aaron, Denzel Washington, and others matter tremendously, they are not a substitute for annual giving by all alumni of HBCUs. Annual alumni giving is the difference between a thriving and competitive institution and one struggling just to keep the doors open. Your commitment to giving even as little as $20 to an HBCU (at least to your alma mater) each and every year is just as important as the occasional headline-making, multimillion-dollar gift from that famous business mogul, pro athlete, or other celebrity.

If you are an HBCU alum (and even if you are not), stop right now—right now—go to the website of your alma mater or another HBCU, and make a contribution. If you can’t do it online, find out where you can mail a check, and send it. And then budget to make an annual contribution each and every year. Even better: Automate your annual giving at the university’s website or via your banking or another financial app. Whatever you do—do it now.

But don’t stop there. Make it your responsibility to turn HBCU alumni-giving statistics around, from only one in 10 giving to at least 90% giving at every school. We must make alumni giving the rule, not the exception, of HBCU alumni culture. Challenge your fellow alumni, including fellow members of fraternities and sororities, as well as new graduates, to give back to their school each and every year—no exceptions.