In order to boost enrollment, graduation rates, and job rates for the institutions’ graduates, the HBCU Transformation Project, a partnership of 40 historically Black colleges and universities, recently announced a $124 million grant from philanthropic investors Blue Meridian Partners.
UNCF’s President and CEO, Michael Lomax, who acts as an intermediary tasked with the duty of managing the finances, referred to the contribution as a vote of confidence in the alliance, comprising public and private institutions. He commended the Blue Meridian for their contribution by stating, “This very significantly scaled grant from them signals to the philanthropic community that this is a really good investment to make.”
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The gift will help the organization, which has already received $75 million from Blue Meridian since 2020, to extend its activities. According to Jim Shelton, president and chief investment and impact officer of Blue Meridian Partners, the initiative has already produced positive early results in terms of enhancing enrollment and other key functions.
Shelton noted, “It made it relatively straightforward to say, ‘Clearly, we’re just beginning this work. Institutions have been underinvested and need more investment, and we believe that we can play a catalytic role in bringing resources to the table,’” he added that they were actively searching for further funding from other donors to expand to other institutions.
According to UNCF, the initiative has also secured $17.6 million in funding, $4.5 million from JP Morgan Chase, and $1 million from Capital One.
When the schools had to close due to the pandemic outbreak of the coronavirus, Blue Meridian first gave money to HBCUs to assist in covering their operational expenses.
Harry Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) stated, “One of the things that we were concerned about was whether or not HBCUs were going to survive because we knew that HBCUs didn’t have large endowments, didn’t have the resources that could sustain the”.
The project’s award is jointly managed by UNCF, TMCF, and Partnership for Education Advancement, while the majority of funds will go to the participating institutions. In order to increase their ability to assist the schools, Blue Meridian also provided direct financing to the three intermediaries.
According to South Carolina State University’s president, Alexander Conyers, some of the initial round of financing was used to purchase a customer relationship management platform to connect the school’s admissions and financial aid applications, which were previously extremely laborious.
“We had computer systems, but the different systems weren’t talking to each other,” he remarked.
With the help of the new technology, the school was able to text and email candidates and locate and get in touch with those who had begun applications but hadn’t finished them. As a result, this year’s freshmen intake increased from 371 to 1,200. Conyers, who also utilized project funds to update the school’s website in part to make it rank higher in search results, claimed that the institution had moved five to seven years quicker than it had been able to.
According to Lomax, the schools are assisting in containing expenses by pooling some of these fresh vendors and services.
According to Marybeth Gasman, a university distinguished professor at Rutgers University, it has been challenging for institutions to develop and maintain their basic infrastructure due to decades of underfunding and institutional prejudice in state funding for public HBCUs.
Gasman said of the project and the extra financing, “It’s long overdue.” He also added, “Sharing services is a great idea for financially under-resourced institutions — frankly most colleges and universities benefit from sharing services.”
For the HBCU Transformation Project to keep receiving funding, it must achieve objectives for raising enrollment and graduation rates as well as indicators for graduate employment. Blue Meridian, according to Shelton, would rather the schools set lofty standards and fall short of them than have them think too little.
The three intermediaries and participating institutions are given considerable discretion over how to utilize the funds given, he said, as long as they submit a business case outlining what the financing will accomplish. This gift blends flexibility with accountability, he further noted.
According to the White House, HBCUs have received approximately $6 billion in financing and assistance from federal agencies as a result of post-pandemic legislation, including the cancellation of $1.6 billion in Department of Education debt.
Compared to colleges with the majority of the students being white, HBCUs have gotten much less funding from charitable groups. The eight Ivy League schools earned $5.5 billion from the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations in 2019, compared to $45 million for the 99 HBCUs, according to a new analysis of giving by the philanthropy research organization Candid and ABFE, a nonprofit that promotes investments in Black communities. Even without accounting for inflation, foundation financing for HBCUs fell by 30% between 2002 and 2019.
In reaction to the epidemic and George Floyd’s murder, private support for HBCUs has surged since 2020, with businesses especially eager to both contribute funds and engage with institutions on workforce development which plays a major role in getting the graduates ready for taking their first step out in the corporate world.
Williams wants more individuals to understand how HBCUs affect society being a “shining star.”
He noted that HBCUs have been “a positive light in the African American community that has transformed and created the middle class as we know it today.”