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Black Wealth 2020 Adds HBCUs to Its Economic Empowerment Agenda

August 01, 2019

1515184852588The short-term economic impact of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is $15 billion — rivaling that of corporations such as Bank of America and its more than 177,000 employees.
 
Yet according to the U. S. Department of Education, approximately 60 percent of all black college students have no expectation of a family financial contribution to their education. That's far lower than that for whites, for whom the number is approximately 30 percent. And it's approximately 48 percent for Latinos and 38 percent for Asians.
 
The economic impact of HBCUs, their struggle to stay afloat, and the dire financial disparities faced by HBCU students are the reasons that Black Wealth 2020, a catalyst for black economic equality, recently decided to add HBCUs as a forth leg to its three-pronged approach to growing black wealth (the others are black-owned businesses, black banks, and black homeownership).
 
"We've got to keep on pushing this agenda. And hooking up with HBCUs is a big way of doing that," said Michael Grant, former president of the National Bankers Association and a founder of Black Wealth 2020 in a meeting just before the principals voted unanimously to acknowledge HBCUs as being "central to strengthening the American economy."
 
"If we're serious about building black wealth," Grant added, "how can we not have a focus on our youth and the next generation?"
 
The expansion of the organization's vision was inspired, in part, by a presentation by Dr. Lezli Baskerville, president/CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and a principal of Black Wealth 2020.
 
"But for HBCUs, there would be no African-American middle class today. And that's a documented fact," Baskerville told the group. "Just the existence of HBCUs in our communities — even the ones that are not thriving — ends up collectively generating about $15 billion in short-term economic benefit. And that doesn't include anything other than what the institutions and their employees and students spend in surrounding communities."
 
Robert Smith's Morehouse initiative challenges black community on its support for HBCUs
 
In an initial move to encourage support for HBCUs, Black Wealth 2020 principals have also sent a thank-you letter to billionaire businessman Robert Smith, chairman/CEO of Vista Equity Partners, who touched hearts across the nation when he announced he would pay off the student loans of the Morehouse College class of 2019.
 
The letter applauded Smith, saying, "With student debt nationally at over $1.4 trillion and with the average college student leaving school $30,000 in debt, your gift not only relieved an enormous financial burden from...Morehouse [students] and their parents, you have challenged all African-Americans of means to think bigger about how to use their wealth to improve the lives of others within our race."
 
Members and supporters of the Black Wealth 2020 coalition include the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters; the U. S. Black Chambers, Inc.; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; the National Bankers Association; the Collective Empowerment Group; the National Association of Real Estate Brokers; the National Black Caucus of State Legislators; the National Urban League's Marc Morial; the National Association for Equal Opportunity; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA); former Small Business Aadministration deputy administrator Marie Johns; John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments; Andy Ingraham, CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers; and Marcia Griffin, CEO of HomeFree-USA.
 
"We thought it fitting that a coalition committed to building wealth should take the opportunity to acknowledge and praise your commitment to uplifting our people," the letter to Smith said in closing.
 
HBCUs struggle for funding — to the detriment of the nation
 
In her presentation to Black Wealth 2020 on the state of HBCUs, Baskerville made the case that student loan debt is inevitable for students whose families cannot help them pay for college. But, she noted, financial issues also hinder even good students from making it through college.
 
Baskerville drew heavily from a report compiled by economist Bill Spriggs, who has argued that HBCUs are the key to diversifying the tech industry, currently among the top-paying industries in the United States.
 
"In the pipeline of people who generate wealth in the African ancestry community, there is not today a challenge in terms of blacks getting into college," said Baskerville. "[Spriggs'] data shows that there is no disparity in the percentages of African-Americans from high-needs areas and whites that are enrolling in college. The gap happens after they get in. It's not that they're not prepared and could not thrive, given the opportunity; it's that once they get in, they don't have the dollars."
 
Among other facts Baskerville cited from the Spriggs report:
  • Despite the financial challenges faced by many institutions and the students themselves, HBCUs are performing above average and do very well in moving students from low-income families into the top 20 percent of income distribution.
  • Many non-HBCU universities now have more students from the top 1 percent than from the bottom 40 percent.
  • With a declining number of white students in the general population and a growing share of low-income students, HBCUs are an underresourced asset for the U.S. economy.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are currently a hundred and seven HBCUs operating in the United States. All  struggle with funding.
 
HBCUs Punching Above Their Weight (36 pages, PDF),  a recent report from the United Negro College Fund, the premier fundraising organization for HBCUs, says that despite their difficulties, HBCUs are still succeeding beyond expectations.
 
"Given their small average size and a history of being underresourced, the enrollment, degree and economic impacts of HBCUs on African Americans in their respective states are significantly greater than one would expect," the report states.
 
Principals of Black Wealth 2020 have vowed to push for the growth of HBCUs as part of their respective agendas and encourage other major organizations and the general public to join them.
 
"It means that for nearly a hundred and fifty years, we've had institutions of higher learning that have produced some of the best and brightest African Americans, and we still recognize the benefits that accrued to the African-American community because of historically black colleges and universities," said the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Weaver, a Black Wealth 2020 principal who represents the Collective Empowerment Group, an economic initiative involving approximately eight hundred black churches. "It's only fitting that Black Wealth 2020 would have a relationship through which we can find ways to collaborate and partner to create even greater synergy within the African-American community with historically black colleges and universities."
 
Headshot_HazelTriceEdneyHazel Trice Edney is the president/CEO of Trice Edney Communications and a former editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service.

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