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Fundraising finesse: HBCUs seek novel approaches to raise funds and sustain support.

As many historically Black colleges and universities face a multitude of fiscal challenges, some schools are using innovative and enterprising methods of surviving and even thriving. Scholars, accrediting officials and HBCU advocates suggest that the future of these institutions lies in their ability to find new, sometimes unconventional, ways of raising capital and sustaining support.

"They need to be entrepreneurial and innovative in how they approach their financial situations," Dr. Levon Esters, lead author of Effective Leadership: A Toolkit for the 21st-century Historically Black College and University President, told Diverse in a recent interview. "They need to approach fundraising in a more dynamic manner."

Entrepreneurial mindset

One institution that Esters cites for fiscal resourcefulness is Paul Quinn College, where President Michael Sorrell has transformed the struggling Christian school in Dallas into an "urban work college" with an 88 percent increase in enrollment since 2009. Students are required to participate in work-study employment that helps pay their tuition.

The college runs a farm on a former football field, producing organic produce that is sold to local markets. It is not only a revenue-producing venture but the farm also provides healthy food to inner-city residents. Income from the farm along with industry partnerships, alumni donors and grants have contributed to the turnaround.

Sorrell told Diverse in February 2015, "We will be the first urban workforce college in the country. And we will be the first HBCU work college." The reviews have been overwhelmingly thumbs-up from scholars such as Esters and his Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) colleague Marybeth Gasman, who also is a Paul Quinn trustee, as well as public officials and media.

"The entrepreneurial mindset makes Paul Quinn College a model for other similar-sized institutions," Esters says, noting that the "good buzz" the school has garnered regionally and nationally has attracted more students and donors. After losing its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) accreditation in 2009, Paul Quinn has since been accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

The Toolkit, produced by the University of Pennsylvania CMSI, recommends that "presidents and their teams would benefit from promoting a curriculum that teaches critical thinking skills while simultaneously teaching practical skills that ensure students acquire jobs that lead to a happy life and result in meaningful change for society."

Among public universities, Esters mentioned Baltimore's Morgan State University, North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T State University for their efforts in increasing external fundraising, especially by training faculty in grant writing and pursuing collaborative partnerships. He noted that private HBCUs, including Xavier University in Louisiana and Claflin University in South Carolina, also have been "very innovative" in this area.

As an example of fiscal stabilization among public HBCUs, North Carolina Central University in April 2016 received a favorable report from Moody's Investors Service, which stated that Moody's "has revised North Carolina Central University's (NCCU) outlook to stable from negative and assigned an A3 to its approximately $54 million of proposed General Revenue and Refunding Bonds."

According to the report, "The stable outlook reflects our expectations that NCCU's recently-implemented admissions strategies will continue to support improved enrollment stability after strong growth in fall 2015. We also expect that NCCU will maintain its track record of conservative expense management to support at least break-even operating performance."

In addition, Chancellor Debra Saunders-White's administration has stepped up fundraising, resulting this past fiscal year in a near-record, which she highlighted in a letter to alumni donors. "Each of you--our alumni, faculty, staff and friends, along with our corporate and foundation partners and organizations--assisted in providing near record-setting support totaling $7.6 million," Saunders-White stated in the letter, noting that the gifts would provide scholarships and research opportunities for students.

In July 2015, NCCU announced that alumni-giving participation reached 15 percent, a 3 percent increase over fiscal year 2013-14, and higher than the national average of 8.3 percent.

Morgan State recently announced it has received a $517,000 grant "as part of an ongoing partnership with The Travelers Companies" to fund programs in the university's business and science schools. In fact, Morgan State has had remarkable fundraising success in recent months.

President David Wilson announced in February the university's largest individual contribution in history. Retired UPS executive Calvin E. Tyler Jr. and his wife, Tina, made a $5 million financial gift to support an endowed scholarship fund for Baltimore City youth. Tyler attended Morgan State in the 1960s but dropped out due to a lack of funds. Last year, pro football Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, an alumnus, donated $500,000 to establish an endowed lectureship in business ethics.

Donna Barrett, director of institutional finance at SACSCOC, identified three fiscal areas that she considers critical: cultivating an operational surplus, having operational cash flow and maintaining unrestricted resources with which to operate on a day-to-day basis. "I've never seen a school that did all these things and had difficulties," Barrett told Diverse, citing two smaller private HBCUs, Rust College in Mississippi and Lane College in Tennessee, as exemplars.


Dr. David Beckley, president of Rust College, credits his leadership team with keeping the school on a firm foundation. "We've been fairly successful in making sure that we do not overextend ourselves. That's the key," Beckley says. "Understanding what you can and cannot do--taking what you have and making the best of it. We've been able to do that for the last 29 years."

Part of that philosophy involves maintaining enrollment around 1,000, which Beckley says has proved to be "manageable for us." It also involves being proactive about grant funding. Most recently, this resulted in awards of more than $500,000 for summer programs for high school seniors and freshman retention initiatives.

Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports public HBCUs, says one way institutions can generate savings is by restructuring debt to lower the cost of servicing loans. "That's a huge opportunity that many schools haven't taken advantage of," Taylor says, adding that "North Carolina Central has been highly successful at that."

Taylor also suggests that the institutions seek unconventional partnerships such as joining with other nearby colleges for cost-saving endeavors. He recommends that institutions--public and private--enter into contracts together for purchasing goods and services, in order to benefit from buying in greater volume.

Taylor also points out that TMCF offered a fundraising conference in Atlanta, all expenses paid, to its member institutions in late May. "Our schools have got to get into the 21st century when it comes to fundraising," Taylor says.

Institutional Advancement--Mapping the Pathway for HBCU Success was a four-day gathering that brought together the fundraising teams and school leadership from most of the 47 TMCF schools. Taylor says the purpose was to share best practices and collaborate on a fundraising project that might benefit the collective "instead of separately knocking on the same doors" for corporate funding.

Whether from corporations, agencies or individual donors, Esters says, "At the end of the day, what it comes down to is how can HBCUs increase external funding opportunities. That's what is going to affect their long-term viability."

By Pearl Stewart
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Title Annotation:historically black colleges and universities
Author:Stewart, Pearl
Publication:Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 30, 2016
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