College Giving And You

Electronic communication, the kind that many of us have become experts at here on the internet, seems so natural these days that when you run into some good old fashioned human interaction it seems almost supernatural. One of my very very good friends from my youth and young adulthood has been in town for the past few days. Back in the days when I knew less than zero about what I was really looking for out of life and where I was headed, he and I used to talk for hours on end about who we thought we were and what we thought we wanted to be.

And then time passed and I moved away from home. The years passed and we each struck out on our own in an attempt to make our mark on the world. And even though we've sat around and shared a few laughs over drinks from time to time, it wasn't until this weekend that being middle aged caught up with us enough to quell any urge to paint the town red like we used to do. Instead, we sat around on the deck or in the basement or in the driveway and talked the way we used to in the old days.

My homeboy has recently begun working at a historically black university in the institutional advancement department. His school is about to kick off a massive capital campaign. So he's a little excited. Needless to say, I've learned more about the mechanics of finding donors for major gifts to a school in the last three days than I probably wanted to know. The thing that is most impressive to me about this new direction my buddy's life is going in is the way this job seems to be tailor made to his skill sets and life experiences.

I told him this yesterday. "Man, you've been selling financial planning products for years. This is really the same thing. And you are raising money for a black school. This just fits into who you are and where you came from so well I couldn't think of a better gig for you. The people they want you to talk to are basically the same as your clients."

"Oh yeah."

In the last few weeks, I've written about Tom Joyner and the efforts of his radio show and his foundation to stress the importance of higher education and back it up with cash giveaways to deserving students at HBCU's. Joyner's work is important, but it will be these newly energized, newly staffed institutional advancement departments who do the lion's share of the work of keeping these schools affordable and academically competitive.

By a large margin, the highest black student graduation rate at a historically black college belongs to the academically selective, all-women Spelman College in the city of Atlanta. In fact, the Spelman black student graduation rate of 77 percent is higher than the black student graduation rate at 13 of the nation's 56 high-ranking predominantly white colleges and universities referred to earlier. Spelman's unusual strength shows in the fact that it has a higher black student graduation rate than such prestigious and primarily white colleges as Bates, Colby, Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, Claremont McKenna, and Carnegie Mellon.

Following Spelman in the rankings, the next-highest black student graduation rate among the HBCUs was at Morehouse College and Fisk University. At Morehouse and Fisk, 64 percent of the entering black students go on to graduate within six years. Hampton University, Miles College, Howard University, and Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina sadly are the only other HBCUs that graduate at least half of their black students within six years.

Here is the worst news of all: At 24 HBCUs — nearly one half of all HBCUs in our survey — two thirds or more of all entering black students do not go on to earn a diploma. The lowest graduation rate was at the University of the District of Columbia, where only 7 percent of entering freshmen go on to earn a bachelor's degree. At Texas Southern University in Houston, 14 percent of entering students complete college.

The low graduation rates at black colleges are due to a number of reasons. Many of the students enrolled at these institutions are from low-income families, often ones in which there are few books in the home and where neither parent nor grandparent went to college. In addition, the black colleges on the whole have very small and totally inadequate endowments. They often lack the resources necessary to generate funds for student financial aid. Often they are unable to furnish sufficient aid packages for upperclassmen to permit them to stay in school.

Excerpted From Black Student College Graduation Rates Remain Low, But Modest Progress Begins to Show

One of the things my buddy explained to me was how a capital campaign worked. "Alumni giving," he said, "is the linchpin of any significant fundraising effort. Our ability to access funds from the leading educational foundations rests almost entirely on the amount of alumni support we can generate." And as he went deeper into the details, it started sounding a little bit like the hedge fund industry. A college or university could leverage alumni pledges the same way hedge fund managers could leverage investor equity, giving them an ability to amplify the the power of an alums gift by ten dollars for every dollar they promised to give.

"You know," I told my buddy, "you've got your work cut out for you. Not only is the economy bad - you also have to contend with Pastor Reverand Bishop Double Bentley." When we were oppressed like dogs, and had no where else to turn, putting everything we were willing to give into the church might have made sense. But as the times change, so does the need for our focus. One of the key ways we are going to shrink the number of ghetto dwellers is to help keep the kids who come from them in the colleges they attend. As my father so aptly reminded me when they took me to college as a freshman, "the getting in here is over. It's the getting out that's important."

So if you went to an HBCU, don't wait for them to call you. Give them a call.

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