Bennett College’s pledge drive highlights dearth of mega-gifts to HBCUs

Bennett College, one of the nation’s two remaining historically Black women’s colleges, recently raised $8.2 million in a fundraising drive to save its accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) said in December 2018 that it would revoke Bennett’s accreditation, citing the Greensboro, N.C.-based school’s financial instability.

In two months, the college secured funds from 11,000 donors, including $1 million from nearby High Point University and $500,000 from Papa John’s, which has been trying to fix its image after its founder used hateful language and racist slurs. “We appreciate each and every gift that we were given, no matter how small or how large,” Bennett President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins said during a press conference, according to Education Dive.

While Bennett was able to exceed its $5 million goal (the amount raised will allow the school to appeal SACSCOC’s decision), its precarious financial situation also highlights a more systemic problem: HBCUs receive very few transformative gifts.

The Atlantic points out that while Spelman College recently received $30 million—the largest-ever gift from a living donor to an HBCU—that is far from the norm. The same holds true even at a lower price point: in 2017, HBCUs received just two out of the more than 460 philanthropic gifts of $1 million or more to higher education.

Related: Retired teachers give $200K to endow scholarships for 200 students at HBCU

“Black colleges… have been underfunded for decades,” The Atlantic noted, adding, “that they are now overlooked for big donations in favor of wealthier schools seems like insult on top of injury,” especially given HBCUs’ critical role in Black students’ degree attainment. Just 3 percent of the nation’s higher education institutions are HBCUs, but the schools educate nearly one in five Black undergraduate degree holders. HBCUs also graduate more than 25 percent of Black STEM-degree holders.

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