WASHINGTON — Historically Black colleges and universities are drivers of upward mobility for not just their students but also the communities where they are located. After the racial reckoning of 2020 prompted by the murder of George Floyd, millions of dollars were donated to HBCUs, yet they are still unable to attract sufficient capital from traditional lenders.
“The benefits of an HBCU extend well beyond academic training,” Andre M. Perry, senior fellow at Brookings Metro, a Brookings Institution’s research program, said during a September webinar aimed at finding solutions to the schools’ funding problem. “These institutions are often the largest employer and a primary source of art, culture and sports in a region.”
Despite their positive impact on communities, these institutions have been starved of the finances they need to maintain and update their campuses. The lack of investment into these institutions is a direct consequence of many decades of discrimination, according to Perry and other experts.
Yonina Gray, director of external relations at Reinvestment Fund, a nonprofit organization that funds community development across the nation, is determined to help these institutions attract a level of investment that reflects their critical role in communities.
More investment would enable institutions to renovate aging facilities in order to appeal to current and new students and improve the surrounding community.
“It’s important to think about how we are improving [HBCUs’] access to capital,” she said. “While they are community anchors… they need to attract and retain students in order to operate and to thrive.”
The Reinvestment Fund invited a group of leaders from banks, HBCUs and other nonprofits in February 2022 to determine how they could work together to increase access to capital for these impactful institutions.
For example, Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama was forced to spend about $300,000 a year to house students in hotels because its student population was growing and it didn’t have money to build new dormitories or upgrade older facilities.
The Reinvestment Fund provided $7 million to the college so that it could build resident halls for students.
“We know that high quality facilities promote student learning and student success,” said Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, president of Talladega College.
“This incredible investment vehicle enabled us to do something that was absolutely needed for the college and the community,” he said.
Even with this investment, Dr. Vincent said the college is still in need.
“I can’t ignore the fact that we still have work to do as far as accessing larger capital,” he said. “We all are committed to making Talladega that ‘it’ city.”