Black Colleges Seek Shelter From Economic Storm The financial woe faced by Morris Brown College is just the latest example of how a wounded economy creates serious challenges for higher education in America, and the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are no exception. Many of the schools already operate with limited resources. Hear analysis on the financial health of America's black colleges.
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Black Colleges Seek Shelter From Economic Storm

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Black Colleges Seek Shelter From Economic Storm

Black Colleges Seek Shelter From Economic Storm

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

We want to talk more about the challenges facing historically black colleges and universities in general. Joining us now are Julianne Malveaux, she is the president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. It's one of only two institutions of higher learning aimed at African-American women primarily; and Marybeth Gasman, she's an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. She's an expert in philanthropy and historically black colleges, and I welcome you both. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARYBETH GASMAN: Good to be here.

JULIANNE MALVEAUX: Hello, nice to be here as well.

MARTIN: Professor Gasman, I want to start with you because a lot of institutions of higher learning are struggling right now because of the economy or other issues. We learned, for example, that Yeshiva University has lost a huge amount of money from its endowment, apparently due to the alleged fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff. Harvard has lost an enormous amount from its endowment. Is the situation with the HBCUs essentially the same or is there something distinct about their circumstances?

GASMAN: So if you're Harvard and you have a financial crisis, you might go without maybe a tiny little something, but if you're Morris Brown or Bennett, it's going to be even more difficult. So I think that they're experiencing very similar things, but they have - most black colleges have smaller endowments. Even the ones that are very strong, their endowments relative to their predominantly white counterparts are fairly low. So you know, you have to think about it that way.

MARTIN: President Malveaux, we have a couple of minutes more in this segment and then we're going to take a break and come back to you. But talk about the challenge - you took over at Bennett just over a year ago.

MALVEAUX: A young sister from a great high school in D.C. with a 4.0, I want her to come to Bennett, but she's going to have the opportunity to go to Harvard or Princeton or Yale, and we've got to figure out on how we can be competitive with her. And I don't want her to shortchange herself because she wants to go to an HBCU. She'll have a great time at Bennett, but she may be the young sister who'd also have a great time at Harvard. So this is what we were faced with, is how to get the best and the brightest to also come to us.

MARTIN: Is the issue for - and Professor, you pointed out that all HBCUs are not the same. Is there a trend into who's stronger than others? Is it - are the private institutions financially stronger than the private - than the public ones or is it the opposite?

GASMAN: Well...

MARTIN: Is there a trend to that, Professor...

GASMAN: Did you direct that to me or to Julianne?

MARTIN: Professor Gasman, you first, and then I'll hear from Julianne, also.

GUSMAN: You could come up with other examples, as well. I think there are some publics that are really strong. There are some privates that are really strong. There are some of each that are weak, and there are a lot that are sort of in the middle. And it's just like the rest of our higher education in the United States. You have those that are flourishing and those that are having trouble. And so I think it's important to think about that when you think about black colleges.

MARTIN: President Malveaux, if you could take 30 seconds and then we'll pause and come back to you.

MALVEAUX: We should come back and talk about it. It's a huge issue, but the fact is that the privates are, I think, a little more vulnerable generally. Although you look at Howard and Hampton, who are our stalwarts, they're just very strong. Great presidents - Pat Swygert did a great job. But what we have to say, the publics have access to public dollars that the privates don't have access to, so they have greater ability to float bonds, to do other kinds of things that we privates don't have the opportunity to do. It's a mixed bag, but it really does mean that we are rolling a pea uphill. Rolling it well, but rolling it.

MARTIN: We're speaking with Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College, and Marybeth Gasman, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. And still to come, the highs and lows of 2008. It's our year-end review. That's next on Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Now, earlier this year, I spoke with H. Patrick Swygert just before he stepped down as president of Howard University. He presided over the successful completion of a $250 million capital campaign. That's the largest ever by an HBCU, and he pointed out that considerable amount of funds came from alumni. This is what he says was important about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

PATRICK SWYGERT: It sends a signal that the beneficiaries of the enterprise, the people who know it best, care about it and care about it in a way that can be quantifiable. And then secondly, there is a fairly significant and growing community of upper middle-class African-Americans and African-Americans who are quite wealthy who come out of a tradition - a principally church-based - but a tradition of giving. And so, it's not alien to us, you know, this notion of blacks don't give and have never given. This is simply not true.

MARTIN: President Malveaux, obviously, this conversation occurred before all of our 401(k)s turned into 201(k)s.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And so a lot of people are suffering the ill effects of the recession, but what about that? What are the - you know, many institutions benefit from legacies, they're the people who have a strong emotional attachment to them. But what about at Bennett?

MALVEAUX: The other piece, Michel, that I think is really important is that there are 105 HBCUs. All of black America needs to decide that we're going to embrace these institutions. I can't tell you how many calls I get from colleagues. I've got a daughter, niece, cousin - needs to come to Bennett. And I'm thinking, hey, contribute. So all of us need to embrace these institutions, www.bennett.edu. But you know...

MARTIN: That's the way to ask. That's the way to ask. But what about that? What is - and I'd like to hear from both of you on this - why is the giving rate less? Is it partly that there is not, as President Swygert said, there is a tradition of giving in the black community. Is it that the people who go to these schools tend not to gravitate toward high-earning professions, that they tend to be more into public service or things that pay less well, or do they have other giving priorities that don't...

MALVEAUX: So I wouldn't blame our alums, though. I want us to look at ourselves. I think that many of us can be more aggressive in reaching out to our alums and to others and making the pitches more aggressively and more appropriately. So we've got a lot of work to do internally. Many - UNCF has been great in supporting some of the colleges. Bennett has a grant from UNCF to shore up our giving potential. And what it recognizes is that oftentimes when your dollars are short, you don't invest in the engine that basically drives the institution.

MARTIN: Professor Gasman, what about you? What does the research show? Why do you think there's this gap in giving?

GASMAN: So an institution like Dartmouth that Julianne mentioned is going to do that immediately. And you know, I talk at black colleges all the time about these issues, and I always ask the presidents, do you do this? And some of them will say yes, but most say, no, we don't do that until about five years out. Well, that's definitely not the approach to use anymore.

MARTIN: OK.

GASMAN: You need to get on the radar screen of these young people and get them to think about your institution.

MARTIN: We're going to need to leave it there. But President Malveaux, I think I would be remiss if I didn't ask you the same question I asked Professor Pritchett, which is, is it possible that the task of these institutions has - that their era has simply ended? As you mentioned, there are 105 historically black colleges and universities. Is it possible that there just simply is not a need for 105 historically black colleges and universities now?

MALVEAUX: Well, Michel, I would be - I would not say that there's not a need for 105. I think each institution has to go back and look at core mission and decide that we can make a value proposition for investing in our colleges. In my case, the most important case I have to make is to non-alums. Not to alums, but to non-alums. There are those who say we should have fewer colleges, that some of us are too small and some of us are not efficient. But I would not be willing at all to speak on that. I think those are individual decisions. But I do think that there's an important place for HBCUs in 21st-century America. If you didn't have us, you'd have to invent us.

MARTIN: All right. We'll leave it there and hopefully we'll speak again as the year goes forward. Dr. Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She's also a noted economist. I think you probably figured that out just by her conversation. Marybeth Gasman is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. I thank you both so much for speaking with us and Happy New Year.

MALVAEAUX: Always a pleasure. Happy New Year to you.

GASMAN: Thanks for having me. Happy New Year.

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