The average historically Black college and university received 178 times less funding from foundations than the average Ivy League school in 2019, according to a new report on the underfunding of HBCUs released Tuesday.
The study — conducted by the philanthropic research group Candid and ABFE, a nonprofit that advocates for investments in Black communities — found that the eight Ivy League schools received $5.5 billion from the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations compared to $45 million for the 99 HBCUs in 2019. Between 2002 and 2019, foundation support of HBCUs declined 30%, even before inflation is taken into account.
“We were not surprised by the findings because philanthropy generally funds Black-led nonprofit organizations disproportionately less than other similarly situated organizations,” said Susan Taylor Batten, ABFE’s president and CEO. “However, we were surprised by the data that indicated the enormity of the disparate funding between Ivy League colleges and HBCUs.”
Some study participants blamed systemic racism for the underfunding. Others said it was a result of limited connections between philanthropists and HBCU leaders.
In any case, the disparity is even more problematic, experts say, because HBCUs have proved themselves so effective in educating Black students.
According to the UNCF, the nation’s largest private provider of scholarships and other educational support to Black students, HBCUs account for 80% of Black judges, 50% of Black doctors and 50% of Black lawyers. Studies show that Black HBCU graduates earn $900,000 more in their lifetimes than Black graduates from predominantly white institutions or Black workers without college degrees.
Those arguments may have become more convincing in the racial reckoning that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. Preliminary estimates showed a 453% increase in foundation funding to HBCUs in that year.
That $249 million in donations does not include the $550 million that philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gave to 22 HBCUs that year, including $50 million to Prairie View A&M University in Texas.
Grace Sato, Candid’s director of research, said the interest in HBCUs in 2020 allowed her organization to work on the study released Tuesday. Candid had been interested in researching donations to HBCUs for five years, but could not find a partner to help finance the work.
“I think understanding the context for the historic disinvestment sheds new light on this new funding and also calls into question whether that new funding is going to be sustained or is just a blip followed by declines,” she said. “Shining a light on the issue of underfunding is important and necessary.”
Lodriguez Murray, UNCF’s vice president of public policy and government affairs, warned that the increase in HBCU funding since 2020 does not mean that HBCUs are no longer underfunded. “We consider this to be a drop in the bucket and the need is still extremely severe,” said Murray, adding that the report did not specifically account for the work of UNCF and other organizations who provide scholarships to HBCU students, which lowers the schools’ costs. “So even though there has been greater funding, there are still greater needs.”
In many ways, HBCUs and supporters like UNCF have been preparing for the recent increase in attention and support for decades, said Nadrea R. Njoku, director of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. “We have been telling our story for more than 100 years as a collective,” she said. “When that moment came, and everyone turned their heads to what toward what the needs of Black people were, UNCF and our partners had both the story and the data to support it. And that’s what got the philanthropists and the corporations across the finish line in bringing those donations.”
Batten said her nonprofit’s goal is to encourage philanthropic groups to direct their donations equitably. She hopes this report will convince foundations to examine their grantmaking practices and consider increasing their donations to HBCUs.
“Philanthropy tends to fund organizations that they know,” Batten said. “Philanthropy does not know HBCUs and has little knowledge about the importance of HBCUs in the education of Black people and others. Additionally, I believe that philanthropy has a false sense that the quality of research and education is superior at (predominantly white institutions) in comparison to the quality of research and education at HBCUs.”
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