Make it Better and They Will Give: Enrollment Gains Parallel Record-Breaking HBCU Giving

Xavier University of Louisiana recently announced a $1 million gift from the Gayle and Tom Benson Charitable Foundation to support the upkeep of the school’s chapel and merit and need-based scholarships for students from New Orleans.

The announcement preceded a $500,000 gift announced by West Virginia State University from the John L. Dickinson Family in support of the school’s soon-to-launch undergraduate nursing program.

They are just two gifts from families with ties to the cities and states where these HBCUs are located, but they are a positive sign of how HBCUs nationwide can find new support from diverse groups of advocates.

In January, Inside Philanthropy reported that trends in giving would decrease in areas dedicated to social justice, but would increase towards underserved populations. The prediction is supported by positive gains for HBCU philanthropy shown in the last five years of measurable federal data, but also in this year’s historic giving trends to black college campuses.

Private Gifts & Grants to HBCUs

2012 – $351.5 million

2013 – $304.7 million

2014 – $265.2 million

2015 – $316.8 million

2016 – $320.5 million

Elizabeth City State University announced historic giving just two months ago, which preceded early indicators of the school welcoming its largest cohort of incoming first-year students in five years. Campuses like Huston-Tillotson University, Wilberforce University, Benedict College and Philander Smith College are all reporting benchmark highs in first-year and total student enrollment.

HBCU campuses that are growing in numbers and profile are attracting the attention of local and regional donors who have increased interest in legacy giving to underserved causes. HBCUs remain a popular target family foundations looking to expand access for African Americans and underserved communities.

The Charles Koch Foundation, for example, has emerged as a leader in the HBCU philanthropic space over the last five years, donating more than $50 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and United Negro College Fund, adding to support through endowed gifts to individual HBCU campuses.

The adage of “build it and they will come” has evolved, at least in higher education, into “make it better and they will give.” Small and large HBCUs are showing that sustainability is the best, and perhaps only lightning rod for philanthropic growth in the 21st century and beyond.

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