“A reform is a correction of abuses, a revolution is a transfer of power.” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton
The top 100 endowments in America have approximately $250 billion. The HBCU Endowment Foundation’s 105 HBCUs combined have approximately $1.5 to $2 billion. That’s over 125 times more. I am calling for education reparations. To keep it as simple as possible I’m asking for the equivalent of African America’s population. That is approximately 15% and would equal to $37.5 billion that would be equally divided amongst African America’s HBCU institutions. Each HWCU would contribute based on their percentage of the $250 billion pie so that schools with larger endowments are putting in more than those with smaller endowments. The even distribution among HBCUs would allow for schools that have been historically underfunded through a myriad of practices by state and social constraints to achieve some level of parity. This money would be used to build much needed economic and physical infrastructure at HBCUs. From buildings, expanding internationally, improved technology, social training, expanded recruitment, research, and most importantly scholarships that would allow HBCUs to compete for talented African American students who on large choose HWCUs based on financial accommodations.
While HBCUs continue to produce over 25% of African America’s college educated population (while being only 3% of all American higher education institutions) the rising cost of education and lack of financial resources is creating a new wealth divide among future generations even more so than before. America as a whole in 2012 will touch the $1 trillion in student loan debt. Couple this with African America losing 83% of its wealth in the Great Recession which now stands at approximately $2,200 median net worth, according to Economic Policy Institute. This in comparison with European America who has approximately $98,000 by EPI statistics and Asian America has approximately $80,000 according to the Pew Research Center. This recipe is destined to have an African America that is educated but so indebted they can never reap any benefits of their education.
We still have not captured the all important emphasis of circulation of social, economic, and political assets. As I stated in “The University of Power & Wealth” there is no greater institution in America perhaps the world that touches on all three of those developmental factors than colleges and universities. The research alone that creates businesses which in turn creates jobs is something African America sorely needs in spades. The social development of a people’s cultural value owned and controlled by them not given to them by opposing forces. Unfortunately, even in my own mind it is hard to sell such an idea when African Americans themselves still in mass seek to gain entrance into institutions that are not in their control and don’t understand the value of it. Stuck in a laborious mindset as opposed to an ownership mindset will continue to impede African America’s development. Something as simple as sending their child there (tuition revenue), donating (alumni), and a host of other self-defeating actions hamper our best opportunity to grow our way out of the cellar.
Instead we’ll continue to try and kick down the door of colleges and universities where we are the minority instead of the majority, maybe control one trustees seat (which still leaves you outnumbered), are not the major donors to the school which leaves you with little say in the direction, and then cry that we are not receiving fair treatment.
In part I believe these reparations are imperative to the institutional survival of HBCUs who continue to be in need of a massive cash infusion. Something we have been unable to achieve since our founding and seemingly have no help from the present government who has actually cut HBCU funding then restored it to a measly $85 million for 105 schools. Of course I also believe that no group in power would ever do anything or has ever done anything to voluntarily relinquish that power so that another group could rise and challenge them which is exactly what an act like this would generate. However, I believe the reparations conversation is still a poignant one worth having.
In the same way that Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger’s, and other major retail businesses act as an anchor store that brings in other stores to retain the dollar in a geographic area the college and universities of America are the same. I pointed out once that in Texas there is no more valuable real estate to be had at the moment other than in College Station and Austin homes of the state’s two major HWCUs. Now imagine if African America had that kind of demand for its own real estate as opposed to the demand many African Americans currently create for European American schools, neighborhoods, and businesses in our desire to be “accepted”.
The major thing that would have to exist in order for me for this to be a reality is that every HBCU would have to have a plan of purpose for using the money. They would also have to agree to keep the money at an African American bank as this too is one of the vital missteps of African America. Not controlling its banking system and then wondering why it receives and abnormal percentage of sub-prime debt but that is another article for another time.
Stop fighting for fairness and justice. These are relative terms and vary greatly depending on what side of the coin you are on. Instead fight for power to determine your own destiny and in order to do this African America must build its institutional power.
Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & President of AK Companies, Inc. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste as well as writing articles for other African American media outlets.