Category Archives: Technology

The Forgotten Mission – HBCUs Account For Less Than One Percent Of America’s College Research Spending


A man wearing black pants, a white shirt and black shoes, writing on the wall. He is drawing a line of gears and writing business-related words above and below the gears

“Many think that the principal mission of universities is to transmit knowledge; they miss the key point that teaching and research are inseparable. American universities must continue to discover new kinds of knowledge and new ways of thinking.” – Dr. Eric Kandel

In 1896, Booker T. Washington invited George Washington Carver to head Tuskegee Institute’s Agriculture Department. For almost five decades Carver would set himself in stone as the greatest scientist and research ever to grace the halls of an HBCU. To this day he and his accomplishments are the measuring stick by which all HBCU research and scientists are measured. Yet, the fever by which Tuskegee invested in Carver and his research seems like a distant memory in HBCU lore and strategy.

HBCUs have always been known for promoting their values of community service and teaching, but oft left out of the conversation is the research portion of our institutions. The importance of research can not be overstated. As mentioned in the article The University of Power & Wealth that research and an environment of campus entrepreneurship to commercialize that research has produced companies like FedEx, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Time Warner, and Dell just to name a few of the more well known companies. Not just companies, but products like Gatorade, which was invented at the University of Florida in 1965 and from which the university still receives royalties north of $10 million annually from Pepsi. There have also been inventions that simply serve the societal good like oral contraceptives and the seat belt that were created by college research and ingenuity.

HBCUs comprise approximately 2.3 percent of all colleges and universities in America. However, they make up only 0.7 percent of the research and development spending by American universities. Just to get to its representative amount of 2.3 percent would require R&D spending to increase from its current $500 million to $1.5 billion. Unfortunately, almost every conversation had with HBCU leadership and alumni would lead many to believe the answer to fixing our financial problems is through sports. A recent report by the NCAA showed that only 14 of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools made money from campus athletics. That profit is primarily thanks to television deals through their conferences that HBCUs have little hope of obtaining at scale. That is not to say they can not be profitable, they can, but not following the playing book of their counterparts. For a more intimate perspective let us look at the University of Texas, the school with the one of the most valuable football programs in the country. It produces $109 million in revenue according to Forbes. Sounds great, right? Sounds like the answer to all of our prayers. Because when you are dehydrated even a bit of spit your way will appear to be a glass of water. Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh, America’s top grossing university hospital, produced revenue of $11.87 billion or 109 times the revenue that the University of Texas football program produces annually. In fact, even the University of Texas’s most valuable asset is its hospital, which generates almost $5 billion in revenue annually and has unbridled power in the city of Houston’s Texas Medical Center, the largest of its kind in the world.

Currently, HBCUs as aforementioned produce approximately $500 million collectively in research expenditures annually. There are 40 HWCU/PWI schools that individually do $500 million or greater annually and 8 of those 40 conduct $1 billion or greater annually according to the National Science Foundation. The gap between the top twenty HWCU/PWI and HBCUs when it relates to research continues to grow with the most recent data showing for every $1 that HBCUs spend on research, their counterparts are spending $52.

This is not to say that HBCUs are not doing prominent research, they most certainly are. Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, a physicist, alum of Alabama A&M University, and who was a professor at Tuskegee University and now serves at Morehouse School of Medicine, received a $1.1 million grant for a pioneering technology that can kill cancer cells with lasers. That is just one of many prominent discoveries happening within HBCU research, but there are more fields and much more that needs to be taking place from history, economics, STEM fields, and many more. HBCU research should be touching every facet of African American and African Diaspora life. Yet, the commitment and infrastructure to do so is significantly lacking to close the gap.

We have examples of brand new stadiums that cost an HBCU $60 million, but two-thirds of that cost  was paid for by increasing student fees. Where is the same commitment to research? What would it take to build the first HBCU into a billion dollar research institution?

  1. VISION – This is as abstract as it is tangible. Either alumni or a president needs to commit to research as an integral part of the institution and what their plan would be to grow a strategic plan of making it a larger part of the HBCU’s DNA. One way to go about this is to bring in a president with a research background who truly understands and values both STEM and Humanities research and the possibilities it can open for an institution willing to invest in it. We explored a list of a potential HBCU presidents with at least six of the choices having solid research backgrounds in everything from technology to archaeology. These are the type of people who know what it takes to build the infrastructure and develop a strategy as it relates to building a research juggernaut.
  2. RESEARCH PHILANTHROPY – Also known as targeted giving. We see this when alumni are asked to become boosters. Athletics on most college campuses, HBCUs included, has had more targeted giving than other departments. It works primarily because alumni feel the giving is tangible. Give to athletics and your teams win is the tagline. HBCUs must lay out a similar vision and tagline for research. Alumni need to know why they need to give to research and what exactly it is building – see number one. Virginia State University Economics alumni have taken matters in their own hands created an endowment for their department of which a percentage is directly to be used for economics research. It is vital that alumni know what their donation is going to be used for and how much it will take to accomplish the objective.
  3. ALL HANDS ON DECK – By this we mean that research must be present throughout the entire campus. Who on an HBCU campus should be conducting research? Everyone. Quite literally. Freshmen upon entering should know that in order to graduate they will need to have completed some type of supervised research. More students are taking longer than four years to complete undergraduate these days so they may as well add this component while they are matriculating. It may go a long way to keeping them focused as well. According to Science Magazine it also has become a vital piece of obtaining employment or improving graduate schools, “undergraduates participate in research all the time; in chemistry, 72% of graduates had some research experience, according to a recent study sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In environmental science, the study found, 74% of undergraduates had research experience.” However, it can not stop with the undergraduates or even the graduates, faculty and staff must be involved. Remember the Gatorade? The groundskeeper department may create the next amazing product that can go from college grounds to residential  homes across the country. Make everyone invested in it.
  4. STOP ACADEMIC INCEST – This is strictly for HBCUs with graduate schools.  Far too many HBCU undergraduates who graduate from HBCUs with graduate schools who do not have a job lined up or still not sure what they want to do just park themselves in the school’s graduate school as a placeholder. For those HBCUs, they do not mind because the student keeps supplying them with tuition revenue for a few more years. This is short sighted and apathetic. If the majority of your graduate school is made up of your own undergraduates you are doing something wrong. Students do not benefit from it because they never get new perspectives. Remember, HBCUs are not a monolith of intellect. Students themselves benefit from a change of scenery and institutional DNA. The same goes for the institutions. An infusion of new intellectual capital, more sharpened, and the cream of other HBCUs alumni raises the research prowess.
  5. THE PIPELINE – Last, but not least – the pipeline. This means that HBCUs must be connected. HBCU must make it a point to push their HBCU undergraduates into HBCU graduate schools (just not their own). If the HBCU is an undergraduate institution, then it must ensure its alumni are choosing HBCU graduate schools if they are considering furthering their education. For instance, Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M, two public HBCUs in Texas, have within their own state six private HBCUs that are undergraduate only. Alumni from both institutions are coming together to create scholarships through the HBCU Endowment Foundation that would provide scholarships from the six private HBCUs to those two HBCU’s graduate schools. A vital means to keeping the cream of the intellectual capital from the pipeline within it. A key example of the pipeline is the aforementioned Dr. Hadiyah Nicole-Green (pictured below) who attended Alabama A&M University for undergraduate and has become a faculty at Tuskegee University and is now at Morehouse School of Medicine.

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These are just a tip of the iceberg that HBCUs must do to improve the research prowess of our institutions from undergraduate to graduate and throughout the campus. Colleges and universities importance in creating and impacting societal, economic, and political research can not be understated of the acute importance it prevails. HBCUs can find long-term financial security in more research and increasing their value to African America and to the world in general. We do not need to produce another George Washington Carver, but an army of Carvers. If we are to be present in the institutional landscape for another century, then we must ensure that research is an important part of our foundational pillars we build upon.

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HBCU Institute Of Technology & HBCU School Of Mines: The 21st Century HBCU


Whatever we succeed in doing is a transformation of something we have failed to do. Thus, when we fail, it is only because we have given up. – Paul Valery

There are times I wonder what was going through Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak head when they realized they could combine a telephone, camera, music player, and computer all in one device. They were reimagining what a telephone could be, what it could do, and how it could impact the world. The same must become true of institutions like Lewis College of Business, Morris Brown, and St. Paul’s. These institutions at their core must remain HBCUs, but their niche within the HBCU ecosystem must become something different. Their purpose must become something reimagined.

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Two types of universities exist currently that HBCUs have no presence in and that African American sorely needs an established institutional presence in. They are institutes of technology and colleges of mines. A Wikipedia page describing institutes of technology is listed as “an institution of higher education and advanced engineering and scientific research or professional vocation education, specializing in science, engineering, and technology or different sorts of technical subjects.”  The Colorado College of Mines (the school has a 1.2 percent African American student body) is described as a teaching and research institution devoted to engineering and applied science, with special expertise in the development and stewardship of the Earth’s natural resources by U.S. News. Currently, there are twenty institutes of technology throughout the United States, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology being by far the most prestigious. There are six independent college of mines and over a dozen of these type colleges located within universities.

As it stands now there are two truths. First, technologist are becoming the new barons. They are ushering in a new gilded age of wealth. Silicon Valley, a creation spun from Stanford University, is a flush with the best and brightest minds shaping the technology of tomorrow. A great many of them coming from places like the aforementioned MIT and CIT. The 2009 Kauffman report, showed that MIT-trained entrepreneurs produce over $2 trillion in revenues. Wade Roush of Xconomy also reported, “On average, MIT graduates form just under 1,000 companies every year, according to an executive summary of the report shared with the media before today’s announcement. Massachusetts is home to some 6,900 alumni-founded companies, while another 18,900 are scattered around the world, including 4,100 in California. MIT alumni-founded companies employ just under a million people in Massachusetts, 526,000 in California, 231,000 in New York, 184,000 in Texas, and 136,000 in Virginia.” If they were a nation, they would have the eleventh largest economy in the world based on GDP. In comparison, African American owned businesses sales do not generate even 0.5 percent of MIT-owned firms sales. An HBCU institution dedicated to technology could allow for innovations that help us close the technological gap in America and the business wealth gap.

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Secondly, energy demand is frothing as emerging market demand intensifies and developing countries build up their economies. Four of America’s largest ten companies by revenue are in energy and six of the world’s largest ten companies by revenue are in energy. Africa has almost ten percent of the world’s oil reserves and eight percent of the world’s gas reserves, according to a BP statistical review. The US shale boom in North Dakota will make America in the coming decade one of the largest exporters of gas and oil to the rest of the world reversing a long standing trend of being energy dependent. In the graph below, US employment growth in the oil and gas industry is growing faster than total private sector employment. In Africa, where countries are even more dependent on oil and gas revenues, opportunities are even greater. Although I have focused on the oil and gas because of their prominence, a college of mines also includes extraction of coals and other fossil fuels. There is also the extraction of things like gold, diamonds, and other gems that are extracted. Given the expansion into space mining of asteroids that seems to be on the horizon by companies like Google and others, opportunities in mining are quite frankly out of this world.

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To add a cherry on top about these two industries and the universities that produce them is the philanthropy to colleges and universities that accompanies the wealth. In the last decade, The Chronicle of Philanthropy shows that the top 10 donations from energy and technology have donated a combined $707 million and $965 million, respectively. Basically, over the past ten years these two fields alone have produced donations equivalent to all 100 plus HBCUs have accumulated over the past one hundred plus years. The largest donation ever to a college or university was from CIT alum and Intel, a semiconductor company with a market value of $121 billion and 108 000 employees, co-founder Gordon Moore donated $600 million to CIT in 2001. Thirty times the size of the largest donation ever given to an HBCU.

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Instead of losing more HBCUs, schools like Lewis College of Business (MI) , Morris Brown (GA) , and St. Paul’s (VA) could be re-fit to enter areas where African America needs a stronger strategic presence both industrially and geographically. This gives an increased opportunity for research, specialization skills training, and entrepreneurial development. Three areas that HBCUs as a whole sorely need improvement. We must be bold and imaginative to save our beloved institutions – the phone of opportunity is ringing, but what kind of device will we be picking up?

DRONES – The Answer To The United States Postal Service Problems?


By William A. Foster, IV

There is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. – Albert Camus

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Amazon decided that it needed to not only dominate retail for the weekend after Thanksgiving, but it needed to dominate headlines as well. The $180 billion dollar company announced that in a few years it will start delivering customer packages via Amazon drones. No, the NSA and CIA have not taken over Jeff Bezos body. The coming of drones for commercial use has been a badly kept secret for a few years now, but it appears Amazon has emerged as the company who will bring it to the mainstream. If you were wondering when the Jetsons era was going to be upon us. It is here. Drones could will change transportation in the way email changed communication. The latter has almost brought the United States Postal Service to its knees, and the former could become its saving grace.

The United States Postal Service deficit is hemorrhaging something akin to a dam that has been hit by a missile. Last year, it registered a $16 billion deficit. The situation is parallel to that of the automakers a few years ago. Only, there will be no bailout coming. UPS, FedEx, pensions, and technology have presented the USPS with unfathomable challenges and I suspect in less than a decade will be a case study for some fresh face MBA student as I was once upon a time. The latter two, pensions and technology, being their primary problem or at least within their control. USPS is currently required to prefund future retirement benefits based on current and past employees to an annual tune of $6 billion dollars or almost 40 percent of its annual deficit. This is to ensure the pension benefits of current and past postal employees, pension obligations which are currently underfunded, will eventually be able to meet its fiscal obligations to retirees. There is also the matter of Saturday delivery, which cost the USPS $2 billion in losses annually. Something the Postmaster General argued to cut, but was met with such opposition he gave up on the matter. Although, expect me to argue for it again later in this article.

It could be argued with some irony that the zenith of the USPS in terms of labor was in 1999 with its almost 800 000 postal employees, the largest number ever in its history, coincided with the birth of the internet into the mainstream. Today, the number of employees has fallen over 25 percent, but is still twice the size of UPS and FedEx in terms of labor. Patrick Donahoe, the Postmaster General, had plans to reduce the workforce in line with UPS and FedEx, but it could be argued that it simply might not be enough. Primarily, there is the advantage of UPS/FedEx not having to deliver daily mail. Something that could make it difficult for USPS to ever match UPS/FedEx numbers. Unless, there is a way to deliver the daily mail without actual mail carriers. Enter the drone.

In Amazon’s world, drones would leave their distribution centers and deliver packages within a 30 minute window after purchase to the customer. Similarly, the United States Postal Service could use its postal centers as distribution centers as it already does and the field office for its drone flights. First, the drone helps you reduce the mail carrier labor force of 240 000 mail carriers or 41 percent of the USPS entire labor force and their salary, which ranges between $40,470 to $56,720, down to an almost negligible size keeping only large package truck drivers comparable to UPS/FedEx. Assuming the median salary range ($48,595), it would represent a cut of almost $11.7 billion in labor cost from the USPS books without a loss in production. If the USPS was even more aggressive (assuming no legal stipulations) it could contract out the pilot program for the drones and eliminate pension liability all together for this new part of its labor force, but let us not get ahead of ourselves here. Secondly, it would allow a massive reduction in the USPS 212 530 fleet of vehicles, one of the largest civilian fleets in the world. Forget going electric or natural gas, with drones you can just get rid of them period. According to the Federal Times in 2009, USPS spent $524 million in maintenance cost and $1.7 billion in 2010 for fuel cost. Another $2.2 billion off the books and bringing the total savings to $13.9 billion or almost 87 percent of the annual deficit. Just from the use of drones to deliver the daily mail.

Obviously, there are still some hurdles with the USPS even with the implementation of drones. For one, the FAA would have to approve it, which I believe the USPS would have an easier time pushing through than Amazon if they use the government agency to government agency buddy system. The next step would be to certainly to continue to reduce the workforce although the unions will probably have a lot to say about that in (my) theory and reality. Even with an elimination of the mail carrier force they would still be employing almost 350 000 people, which is still over 100 000 more than FedEx/UPS. Arguably, this number could be held if congress would agree to eliminate the Saturday delivery which again according to the Postmaster General would add an additional $2 billion in savings. In turn, it would bring the total savings via cuts and technology implementation to $16 billion, completely eliminating the deficit. It was technology that brought the postal service to its knees and it could very well be technology that helps the phoenix rise from the ashes.