In 2012, $21 billion was given philanthropically to colleges and universities in the United States. However, Minority Serving Institutions, which educate 20% of all college students, received only $1.1 billion or 5% of the contributions . Why is that? Is it fair? Historically, there is un-refuted evidence that funding preferences at the state and federal levels as well as among the private sector have favored majority institutions. Just recently, we witnessed music mogul Dr. Dre give $35 million to the University of Southern California, an institution he never attended and with which he did not have a previous relationship. While the gift is by far the largest to a university by any African American in history, many from the Black community asked, “Why give to an institution so steeped in wealth when such a gift could have transformed a few dozen MSIs – specifically Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)?
As a fundraiser for an HBCU, I understand how these critics feel and momentarily felt the same way, but what I realized is that my institution did not ask him to give. Did yours? Why not?
If the funding streams into our Minority Serving Institutions are ever going to increase, we must commit to doing a better job of communicating our institutional niche and, in some cases, that may require developing one. Many MSIs fail to mention the great and unique work that they do, choosing instead to keep such information to themselves or share it with only a select few. This mindset needs to change as the days of being the best kept secret in town are long gone, especially given that the majority of these institutions are tuition-driven, which suggests they need more students.
Rather than maintaining a closed mouth—which does not get fed—MSIs would benefit from discussing their efforts to assist President Obama with meeting his challenge to the nation of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. The fact is, many MSIs have already begun the process of gathering and using student progress data for strategic planning and institutional decision-making. The use of this information will, in most cases, strengthen retention and graduation rates, thereby helping President Obama meet his goal. In addition, ensuring the success of students through data-driven processes demonstrates just how committed MSIs are to their original mission of serving the traditionally underserved.
Funders hearing how an MSI is tackling a national problem on campus might be inclined to take a closer look at the institution, potentially partner and cast an even larger footprint on addressing the problem. Funders want to be part of successful initiatives.
Returning to the Dr. Dre gift – given that 40% of all headphones carry the ‘Beats By Dre’ logo and that a significant number of students on Black campuses are sporting them, I think that a compelling case could have been made by a few collaborating HBCUs, showcasing the financial support (sales) the musician receives from HBCU students. Another area of interest HBCUs could have appealed to is Dr. Dre’s passion to providing education and opportunity to the next generation of musicians. According to published reports, his gift to USC will be used to launch a new degree program – one that will also involve liberal arts, graphic art, music and technology. Dr. Dre’s interests force me to ask why HBCUs with marching bands, music departments, and business and technology departments didn’t reach out to him?
Imagine the possibilities, had we only asked…
Nelson Bowman III is the executive director of development at Prairie View A&M University and an Advisory Board member of Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions.