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The Conundrum Of HBCUs & American Campus Communities


Glorious shall be the battle when the time comes to fight for our people and our race. – Marcus Garvey

It is often preached that one of the major obstacles to African American economic development is the inability for the African American dollar to circulate within the community. This is often viewed on an individual level by where African Americans shop or eat, but what about at the institutional level? Do African American businesses and institutions like HBCUs also have a role to play in the circulation of the dollar? The answer is without a doubt, yes. Perhaps even more so and more impactful than anything individuals can do. Yet, it seems that when it comes to real estate development and student housing, specifically HBCUs have missed a golden opportunity to circulate millions of dollars within the African American economic ecosystem. To be more blunt, they have failed. That land development is not more revered is somewhat remiss given the lore of the 40 acres and a mule legacy within our communities, but our lack of strategic integration has become others opportunities.

American Campus Communities is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that was co-founded in 1993 by Bill Blayless. Its primary developments are as their name suggest focused on college and universities both on and off campus and primarily housing with some retail mixed in. They have built 206 developments spread across 96 colleges of which 11 have been built on 7 HBCU campuses. Prairie View A&M University, which has a twenty year relationship with ACC,  has the most with four developments with the most recent one opening in 2017. ACC as they are known by their ticker symbol is publicly traded with a market capitalization of $6.1 billion and annual revenue of almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. They have a unique niche in the campus housing development space. However, the story does not simply end there.

If HBCUs are going to do business with developers that are not African American and more importantly HBCU alumni, then there should be something that compels them to do so. A company with an outstanding track record for diversity, a stake of the company in their endowment portfolio, etc. Yet, further examination of American Campus Communities leaves serious questions about exactly who is making the decisions to use them for HBCUs. Of the company’s executive team, senior officers, and board of directors there is not one African American present and no HBCU alumni present either. In fact, there are no ethnic minorities period on the aforementioned groups and only a handful of women. What are decisions like this saying to our community that we so passionately claim to be saying we have the interest of? Are we to believe that there are no African American real estate developers who we trust or are worthy of such projects?

Don Peebles, Sharon Johnson, and Quintin Primo, three African American real estate developers with a combined net worth of almost $2 billion, have developed multi-faceted real estate development corporations and are nationally known certainly would seem more than capable of handling the multi-millions worth of development that happens at HBCUs. There are likely hundreds if not thousands of local African American developers as well like Sharone Mayberry in Houston, Texas who renovated Unity Bank, the only African American owned bank in Texas, and is leading the efforts of renovation in Houston’s historic Third Ward.

It is hardly a surprise that some of these HBCUs are being directed who to use or even having it chosen for them as six of the seven HBCUs who have ACC developments are state schools with Clark Atlanta University being the one private school. Being a public university means that public politics from the gubernatorial office and state politicians have a heavy influence on who receives government and public contracts for work throughout the state. This probably comes with a concerted lobbying effort by ACC to select politicians who make the decisions. The autonomy that state/public schools among the smaller schools (see HBCUs) often marginalizes their decision making while the state’s flagships tend to have the political capital to leverage their own autonomous decisions as it relates to almost every facet of their strategic decision making.

To be clear, this is not a suggestion that all American Campus Communities needs to do is add a token African American to their executive team or board and all is right in the world. That would still not create institutional circulation of the African American dollar and ultimately that is what this is about. If embracing the true circulation and creating a multiplying effect it would take HBCUs concerting with African American financial institutions to sell the bonds that would raise the funds for such construction, then taking that funding and having a request for proposals that ensured HBCU engineers, architects, and developers were a healthy percentage of those who were vying for the bid. Something akin to the Rooney Rule that the NFL uses in ensuring minority coaches get interviewed for head coaching positions that come available. The fact that HBCUs do not seem to be making a more vigorous effort to do this is troublesome.

Time and time again, African American institutions, be it HBCUs, churches, or businesses operate in their own bubble and are not more purposeful in integrating themselves, which makes the dollar within our communities even more difficult to circulate and therefore antagonistic to our institutional economic development. Alumni must deepen their resolve to be involved in not only fundraising for HBCUs, but auditing where those dollars go once they are received. It would be prudent if alumni demanded accountability of just how much of the annual services and products were bought from businesses owned by HBCU alumni. There is a long way to go in moving the needle on circulating our dollars more effectively, but a $10 meal at an African American restaurant versus hundreds of millions in development deals between HBCUs and our own real estate developers is a stark difference in getting us there.

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Who Is The Wealthiest HBCU Graduate? Hint: It Is Not Oprah Winfrey


By William A. Foster, IV

“The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.” – Francois de La Rochefoucald

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Pictured Above: Ann Walton Kroenke, Lincoln University (MO) – Class of 1972

In a recent article for HBCU Money, I was researching the educational demographics for America’s 100 wealthiest. Naturally, as I was looking through their profiles I was seeing the names of your typical Harvard, Yale, etc. as colleges attended. Knowing that Oprah Winfrey, who is not among America’s 100 wealthiest, has long been the only African American billionaire and was an alum of Tennessee State University it seemed fairly certain she was then the wealthiest HBCU graduate. You know A + B = C type stuff. Well, you know what happens when you assume. I stumbled across the profile of one Ann Walton Kroenke and saw the name Lincoln University, but the profile did not specify which Lincoln University. If it turned to be true, then Ann Walton Kroenke would actually be the wealthiest HBCU alum. Mrs. Kroenke’s $5.1 billion net worth according to Forbes makes her 76 percent wealthier than Oprah Winfrey.

Wait, what? Can that be right? Is there another Lincoln University other than the two HBCU Lincoln Universities? Turns out there is one in California so the investigation was on to verify exactly which Lincoln University she attended. After some digging and further research the answer would indeed be she attended and finished from the HBCU known as Lincoln University of Missouri. According to Lincoln University (MO) school records, “Ann Marie Walton received an Associate of Applied Science majoring in Nursing Science on May 14, 1972. She attended Lincoln University from August 1970 to May 1972.” Yes, the Walton name you see is actually her maiden name; and yes it is those Waltons to which she is related and derived most of her wealth from. She is the daughter of James “Bud” Walton who co-founded the Walmart empire with his brother and more well-known Sam Walton. James and Sam Walton spent their formative years being raised in Missouri by their parents. According to the Historical Society of Missouri, the majority of Walmart’s initial store openings would happen in Missouri and Arkansas. The pair originally got started owning Ben Franklin variety stores after Sam Walton obtained a $20 000 loan from his father-in-law in 1945. An amount that would be equivalent to $260 000 in today’s dollars. Walmart would come into being after the two brothers decided to expand into rural communities in the early 1960s. Although the company is well known as having its headquarters in Arkansas; the family’s roots have been firmly planted in Columbia, Missouri since the 1930s.

A fascinating prospect if ever there was one given Missouri’s own paradoxical racial history despite not being considered “south” geographically, but having much of the cultural nuances of it. Mrs. Kroenke, would have been a fresh 21 year old at the time of her arrival in the fall of 1970. The Nursing Science program itself would be just a year old at Lincoln having been launched in 1969. America’s backdrop in 1970 would be fresh off the heels of Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson, and the Black Panther Party in 1970 would see the apex of its membership and power. Walmart as an incorporated company is not even a year old, when the then Ms. Walton would be entering Lincoln University’s (MO) program. America’s wealthiest family to be was by no means poor, but her father and uncle were also leveraging all of the family’s resources to strike out on their own and build their company. The possibility that Mrs. Kroenke at the time needed a fallback could have certainly been plausible, but why Lincoln University (MO)? Given the backdrop of race relationships, civil rights, and her family’s resources it is inherently fascinating how the family and/or she decided to send her 40 minutes down the road to Jefferson City, Missouri to attend an HBCU.

The discovery of Mrs. Kroenke as a Lincoln University (MO) alumni is no small happenstance. Not only is she worth $5.1 billion herself, but she is married to one Stanley Kroenke who is billionaire real estate developer himself worth $5.6 billion. The couple owns professional sports teams in every professional sport, except baseball. Their roster includes the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, NFL’s St. Louis Rams, MLS’s Colorado Rapids, and English soccer club Arsenal. A $50 million donation from Mrs. Kroenke for the endowment would instantly catapult Lincoln University (MO) to the number six slot in terms of HBCU endowments. It would also become the largest gift ever to an HBCU and it would not even be 1 percent of her wealth and less than 0.5 percent of the couples combined wealth. Yes, you read that correctly.

It would be interesting to see how the HBCU community would receive the donation quite honestly. There would be more than a bit of mixed feelings certainly. Given the new push for cultural and ethnic “diversity” (despite European Americans always being welcomed at HBCUs since their inception while vice versa was not true) at HBCUs as presidents have seemingly given up on how to increase the HBCU share of African American high school graduates going to HBCUs which currently sits at 10-12 percent, and instead focused on recruiting all other groups as a way to deal with tuition revenue shortfalls from dropping student populations and to sell themselves as more “American”. This despite many older HBCU alumni believing that these students are even less likely to give back to an HBCU than the traditional core demographic. There is no data to say one way or the other. Unfortunately, this is not something HBCUs can afford to be wrong on given the amount of resources they seem to be throwing at recruiting other communities. If the payoff is only a short-term fix for a long-term problem, then we are simply continuing to put a band-aid on a bullet wound. There is also the psychological impact of the largest donation (albeit from an alumni) still coming from someone that is European American much in the way when the valedictorian of Morehouse some years ago was European American and the fallout it caused. A wound, that in talking to some Morehouse alums still runs deep. However, Lincoln University (MO) seems to lack any endowment of note or at least has refused to publish the number anywhere in my research for it.

The old adage that beggars can not be choosy may apply here as HBCUs have continued to lack in obtaining transformative donations, those that are of the eight and nine figure variety, and in general struggle with consistency in alumni giving rates as a whole. America’s wealthiest family at the writing of this article was worth north of $150 billion combined by the three surviving children of Sam Walton, the widow of Sam Walton’s fourth child, and the two daughters of James “Bud” Walton, one of which is Mrs. Ann Walton Kroenke. The family also has a bittersweet HBCU connection when in 2012 the Tennessee Supreme Court allowed Alice Walton, the only daughter of Sam Walton and founder of Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, to purchase a 50 percent stake in Fisk University’s George O’Keeffe art collection for $30 million as Fisk dealt with financial issues. It goes without saying that the Walton family clearly knows about HBCUs, but whether or not HBCUs and more specifically Lincoln University (MO) can leverage that into something transformative is another story. I would go so far as to say I would set up an office in Columbia, Missouri if I was LUM’s administration and dedicate development staff solely to the purpose of achieving that donation.

Honestly, finding out Oprah Winfrey is not the wealthiest HBCU graduate almost feels like the moment as a child you figure out Santa is not really real. To find out there are two HBCU graduates who are billionaires is always good news. That one of those billionaires is a member of the Walton family is almost too hard to wrap my own mind around at the moment, but as my favorite HBCUstorian Dr. Crystal DeGregory famously says, “HISTORY is the story of great men; HERSTORY of great women. HBCUstory is the story of HBCU greatness. That’s our story!” And I have to say our story never ceases to amaze me.