HBCUs have done more with less for decades, but going forward, relying primarily on alumni donations may not be enough.

Instead, universities should take the initiative to forge creative partnerships with corporations and others to increase cash flow, said one college president.


“We need to attract foundations that are giving funds out for the kinds of work we do,” said Jimmy Jenkins, president of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. “We need to be able to get before those boards. We need to be able to also look for government grants and contracts. So if we can increase those, we can increase the funding that comes along with what we’re asking our alumni to give.” 

He said that strategy is paying off for Livingstone, where he’s asked board members and other prominent people to connect the school with various foundation and corporate board members. Thanks to that networking, the National Science Foundation, for example has awarded $2.3 million in grants that faculty members applied for, Jenkins said. 

He made his comments following a panel discussion at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 46th annual conference in D.C. The panel focused on the past, present and future of HBCUs.  

 “If the Benjamins are not there, colleges can’t give the scholarships that our students desperately need, can’t retain the faculty that we desperately need, can’t make sure that our buildings and grounds look like something that folks want to go to,” said Julianne Malveaux, president emeritus of Bennett College. “So folks need to give.” 

At the same time, HBCUs should show alumni where their donated money goes, and involve them in the schools’ daily activities, said Ronald Johnson, president of Clark-Atlanta University. That helps increase transparency and encourages them to give more, he said. 

Terrence J., an alum of North Carolina A & T State University, said he didn’t need a full accounting of his alma mater’s financial activities. The actor and television personality is thankful the school took a chance on him when his low grades kept him out of the state’s higher-ranked schools. 

“The biggest highlight of my career—more than any film I’ve done or more than any show I’ve been on—last year was when I gave a $100,000 endowment to my university,” he said, explaining that the endowment was more important to him because HBCUs give students opportunities.