How to Keep HBCU Presidents at Home

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It was the mother of all photo ops. You couldn’t get away from it.

Media outlets everywhere pictured presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) gathered in the White House with President Trump. Of course, the surprise guest was Kellyanne Conway, whose mother evidently forgot to tell her it’s impolite to put your feet on the furniture…especially in the Oval office…in the presence of black presidents…who’ll be hearing about it forever!

The fallout from the meeting was swift and predictable. Donald Trump has been everything that most people in the black community feared. He has tweeted like an unhinged two-year-old. He has given unqualified support to a broken and biased criminal justice system. He has attempted to undermine the free press to his advantage. He has surrounded himself with black leaders who are not accepted by black people. And he has gone from birther accusations to now claiming that Obama tapped his phones.

So you knew the HBCU presidents were going to be attacked for meeting with him. Many argued that they were legitimizing an illegitimate president, all for the sake of dollars that they probably will never see. I get it—the argument, that is. I don’t agree with the argument, but I get it. In fact, I wrote about it in a previous article, but that’s for another day. I have a suggestion for you, whether you agreed with the meeting or not.

This is how you can keep HBCU Presidents at home. You can give HBCUs the support they deserve!

And why do they deserve the support? Because they’ve earned it. The facts speak for themselves:

HBCUs enroll just 3% of all African-American students, but they graduate 20% of all African-American undergraduates.
80% of all African-American judges are HBCU graduates.
70% of all African-American dentists are HBCU graduates.
50% of all African-American lawyers are HBCU graduates.
40% of all African-American engineers are HBCU graduates. (1)(2)

And that’s not all. A new Gallup study reveals that “black graduates of HBCUs are more likely than black graduates of other institutions to be thriving – strong, consistent, and progressing- in a number of areas of their lives, particularly in their financial and purpose well-being.” (3)

HBCUs accomplish all of this with a tuition rate that is 30% less than comparable institutions. HBCUs are enrolling many students that would not be able to attend or afford to attend a college or university, and they are producing an amazing product with limited resources.

HBCUs need the support of African-Americans in general and HBCU alumni in particular. I love the active debate that surrounds the HBCU Presidents’ visit to the White House. It demonstrates interest in an important topic. But it costs absolutely nothing to have these discussions and debates. There’s another phrase for that. Talk is cheap! What we need are more people, of all colors, who translate passion into tangible support for the institutions these presidents represent. We need to give back.

I am a proud alumnus of an HBCU. In fact, I’m probably a poster child for HBCUs. Most of my family members are HBCU graduates. From Tennessee State, to LeMoyne-Owen, to Meharry, to Oakwood. And now I’m an HBCU professor, and my wife is a development officer for the United Negro College Fund. And there is one painful lesson I’ve learned of most black institutions. They lack black support.

For example, fewer than 5% of the alumni of my HBCU give to the University.

That’s not an alternative fact. That’s the absolute truth. Now, at my HBCU we have a growing Alumni Association whose independent fundraising numbers do reach beyond the 5%. So let’s double it to 10% or triple it to 15%. We still have a lot of work to do.

And so yes, it’s currently only 5% at my school, but it’s probably not much better at your favorite HBCU. I hope that it is, but it’s probably not. Alumni might buy a ticket to a Homecoming football game or Frankie Beverly concert. They might give a check during a weekend dedication service or Alumni weekend. But very few alumni support their own institutions in any tangible way.

To be fair, alumni support is shockingly low at most colleges and universities. But that’s not my concern. I also clearly understand the challenges that some have had at their alma maters and the student loan debt that they wrestle with. I get that. The fact is everyone can do something. There is no excuse for the lack of financial support we give to HBCUs that do so much, with so little, for so many.

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has forced minorities to understand that the calvary is not coming. And frankly, our children are too important to waste time hoping for help to come. We must take care of our own business. We must support our own institutions. And if we don’t do that, then we won’t have to worry about the presidents because there will be no HBCUs for them to lead.

What are your ideas for supporting HBCUs? Drop them in the comment section below and share them on Facebook.



  1. About HBCUs
  2. “Why Choose an HBCU”
  3. Sean Seymour and Julie Ray, “Grads of Historically Black Colleges Have Well-Being Edge” October 27, 2015.

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