Tag Archives: HBCU

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.


The HBCU Endowment Feature – Elizabeth City State University


School Name: Elizabeth City State University

Median Cost of Attendance: $18 786

Undergraduate Population: 2 760

Endowment Needed: $1 036 972 320

Analysis: Elizabeth City State University needs approximately a $1 billion endowment for all of its undergraduates to attend debt free. The university is located in the northeast part of North Carolina. In a state with an abundance of higher education institutions it can be extremely difficult to standout. It also does not help that ECSU is not on the HBCU “corridor” of I-85/I-95 going through the states of North Carolina and Virginia. The northeast part of North Carolina is a more isolated geography of the state. As in most cases like this there is a bit of the gift and the curse attached to such a reality. By being isolated it can have an intimate advantage in recruitment in the northeast part of North Carolina and very rural parts of southeastern Virginia. The disadvantage of course is beyond those areas it will have a difficult time not being in the HBCU corridor, and therefore will have a hard time getting students outside of its most intimate regions. A cause for concern given the drop in enrollment the school has seen lately. As noted with public university endowments, the size of the alumni base is a mixture of student body size and graduation rates. This formula plays an integral role in the health of the endowment. A declining student body size is a danger to the long term financial stability of a college’s endowment primarily because historically only 10-15 percent of alumni give back nationally. The number is even smaller among HBCUs. Currently, Elizabeth City State University is reported to have a $4.5 million endowment or equal to 0.45 percent of its needed endowment. A serious red flag for long-term stability which lends to some of the issues of the school’s current financial issues. The school has an opportunity to reduce itself down to a healthier size that could allow it could to obtain the financial health it needs to potentially grow at a more steadied pace. It also much find a way to infuse itself along the state’s coastline African American population. The real question is will that be enough. Ideally, ECSU needs to have a student body at least triple its current size if it wants to seriously expand its alumni base within the coming decade.  It is clear they are going to have to pick up the pace of their endowment and capital campaigning to survive tomorrow, otherwise we could be seeing some of the turmoil in Virginia spillover into North Carolina with Elizabeth City State University potentially being the first casualty.

As always it should be noted that endowments provide a myriad of subsidies to the university for everything from scholarship, faculty & administration salaries, research, and much more.

The HBCU Endowment Feature – Delaware State University


School Name: Delaware State University

Median Cost of Attendance: $16 460

Undergraduate Population: 3 744

Endowment Needed: $1 232 524 800

Analysis: Delaware State University needs approximately a $1.2 billion endowment for all of its undergraduates to attend debt free. The school is located in Dover, DE and is the only HBCU in the state. Although the states demographics lend to over 20 percent of the population being African American, it should be noted that the state itself has less than 1 million citizens. This means DSU must rely heavily on recruiting from outside of its state borders to build its population. Delaware is surrounded by Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. The latter presenting a prime opportunity since it does not actually have an HBCU located within its borders. Delaware State University because of this could become more integrated with that reality and offer “in-state” tuition to those citizens in New Jersey. Especially, given the presence of cities like Newark, New Jersey which have a strong African American population and have the potential for sound social and economic ties to Delaware State University. The state of Delaware itself is the legal “home” to more than 50 percent of U.S. public companies and two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies. Being a prominent state of where companies set up their legal home suggest a revenue opportunity is available to Delaware State University and its alumni to create programs and services to existing companies and forming companies. With an endowment just over $20 million the university is sitting in an economic hub of sorts and access to the New Jersey population could easily make a run into the top ten HBCU endowments. It does face increasing dangers of trying to become too ethnically diverse and could lose its HBCU appeal. This red flag is primarily because of the unknown data as of yet as to just how committed non-African American alumni are as donors to their HBCUs. There is much to like about the direction of the endowment situation at Delaware State University but there are some concerns for a school in a state with limited in-state population unless it becomes more creative in recruitment.

As always it should be noted that endowments provide a myriad of subsidies to the university for everything from scholarship, faculty & administration salaries, research, and much more.

The HBCU Endowment Feature – South Carolina State University


School Name: South Carolina State University

Median Cost of Attendance: $21 700

Undergraduate Population: 3 744

Endowment Needed: $1 624 896 000

Analysis: South Carolina State University needs approximately $1.6 billion for all of its undergraduates to attend debt free. The university is located just over 2 hours from Charlotte, NC and almost 4 hours from Atlanta, GA. Currently, it has approximately 0.3 percent of the endowment needed. There might not be a more “famous” board of trustees in HBCU nation over the past few years – some would prefer the word infamy. The board has lacked vision and cohesion for a number of years which has recently resulted in a significant turnover of the board. This occurring while new leadership was being brought in to head the day to day operations and lay out a new vision of the university. That amount of turmoil can make even the most loyal alum or friendly donor wary of giving. The new leadership must hit the ground running and create a concise, clear, and present vision that the school and its alumni can buy into both for morale and giving. South Carolina State University has produced 6 HBCU presidents from its womb so its DNA is something to behold. As the only public HBCU in the state of South Carolina with an African American population roughly 1.5 million, the university should and could be double if not triple its current size. Given that endowments and donations is largely a numbers a game, when you have a monopoly like South Carolina State University has you must exploit it. Also being the only public HBCU in the state means it is the only one with the ability to scale a graduate program to size and could use that moving advantage to pipeline the other 5 private HBCUs into its graduate programs where it could indeed produce more high quality donors. South Carolina State University is truly a diamond in the rough but showing what happens with poor leadership from boards and administrations that can hold back if not almost dismantle a storied institution. This storied institution has all the ingredients – leadership to be determined – to have unimaginable success. We will see what fate its future holds sooner rather than later.

As always it should be noted that endowments provide a myriad of subsidies to the university for everything from scholarship, faculty & administration salaries, research, and much more.

The HBCUpreneur Corner – Prairie View A&M University’s Alysha Sample & Pearluxe

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Name: Alysha Sample

Alma Mater: Prairie View A&M University

Business Name & Description: Pearluxe / We specialize in custom made accessories & clothing that accentuate any ensemble and appeal to the chic urbanite.

What year did you found your company? 2011

What was the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? My most exciting moment would have to be making my first sale. It was an exhilarating experience to know that someone admired my creativity and wanted to have a custom piece made by me.

What made you want to start your own company? I started my own company because I simply wanted to be my own boss. I’ve always known that a regular 8-5 job was just not for me because I like to be on my own schedule. Since graduation, I have learned this even more. Starting Pearluxe, gave me an opportunity to do something that I love, and nothing warms my heart more that being able to share my designs and creations with the world.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? I would have to say the most influential person to me during my time in college was my mother, Lisa Sample. She is such an inspiration. No matter what she was there with me every step of the way and I greatly appreciate her for all that she has done and continues to do.

How do you handle complex problems? I handle complex problems by identifying the root of the issue so I can have a clear view of what the problem is. Once that is established, I face it head on and begin actively working to resolve it. I never dwell on problems because they are only temporary and once addressed they will no longer have power over you.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? I wish I would have know more about the financial side of owning a business especially when it comes to the matters of the state, such as taxes. I learned a valuable lesson early on in my business and educated myself so that I wouldn’t be faced with any similar issues moving forward.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I believe more one-on-one meetings and fairs with entrepreneurs would be very valuable. As a Political Science major in college, I felt that those opportunities were primarily reserved for Business majors. I also believe that school wide entrepreneurship initiatives and endeavors would be quite beneficial because I don’t believe that a person will find true happiness in their career until they are doing something that they absolutely love.

How do you deal with rejection? Dealing with rejection is something that I’ve had to deal with a few times since I started my company. You have to have a tough skin. There will be obstacles on the path to success but you will definitely become a better person and business owner because of it.

When you have down time, how do you like to spend it? I like to spend my downtime traveling, exploring new places, spending time with family and friends, reading, and watching movies.


What was your most memorable HBCU memory? I would have to say the year I traveled with my school to the 2009 SWAC Championship in Birmingham, AL where we WON. That was one of the best weekends of my college career because the school spirit was so high. It was such an honor to be able to enjoy that moment with my friends and classmates.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Please research the market that you would like enter and see exactly where your type of business would fit into it. You will also need determine how your business with stand out among the competition. Once that is done, make it happen. Time waits for no man so create your opportunity and watch yourself prosper. You will definitely be glad that you did!