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Virginia State University Moves To Become Leading Producer Of African American Economist

A science of economics must be developed before a science of politics can be logically formulated. Essentially, economics is the science of determining whether the interests of human beings are harmonious or antagonistic. This must be known before a science of politics can be formulated to determine the proper functions of government. — Claude-Frédéric Bastiat


It seems every day for the past few weeks there are new emails to review for Virginia State University’s Barton Blanks who is a Stewardship Administration Manager for the university from a set of thirty-somethings economics alum. It all started when a donation that the university received was designated for the Department of Economics. However, there was no endowment or fund that was designated for the department. Mr. Blanks contacted the alum who made the donation and a trail of email conversations sprang up with several suggestions brought forward by Mr. Blanks. The alum then contacted other alums to get their feedback on the feasibility and commitment for an endowment based with the university’s foundation specifically for the Department of Economics. As it turned out there was much interest and so they began the outline of what would begin to establish the endowment and its purpose.

Virginia State University is one of the few HBCUs that offers pure economics as a major and just one of five that offers it on the graduate level. Like most HBCUs that offer economics they have a very small department, a very small budget, and usually never graduate more than ten undergraduate students a year. Economics is no major for the faint of heart but its possibilities and needs are endless in terms of developing the economic infrastructure of African America not to mention the power it produces. There has never been an HBCU Federal Reserve Governor and only two African American Federal Reserve Governors. A position that is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. It appears this group of alumni is out to change that.

The endowment currently being set-up will go by the name The Sadie T. Mossell-Alexander & Eric E. Williams Economics Endowment. A clear ode to two African Diaspora economic pioneers. Dr. Sadie Alexander was the first African American woman to receive a PhD (economics) in the United States and while not an HBCU graduate herself her sister was the Dean of Women at Virginia State College, the forerunner to Virginia State becoming a university. Dr. Eric Williams was a prominent Economics professor at Howard University and wrote the book Capitalism and Slavery during his tenure there which is considered as important of a book about capitalism as Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

The endowment seeks to focus on a number of objectives. It will provide operations funds to the department, undergraduate and graduate scholarships, faculty awards, and the establishment of an institute. The unique thing about the undergraduate scholarships is that it gives funding to any and all economics majors who have at least a 2.0 GPA which the group hopes will eventually graduate undergraduates debt free. A move that should both increase enrollment in the program and create long-term wealth for the students, their families, and community. The groundbreaking institute being proposed will be the Marcus Garvey Institute of Diaspora Economics focused on the economic movements of different Diasporas and sub-Diasporas. This could be the first of many institutes that the group hopes to launch through the department.  Lastly, there is a provision in the endowment that would allow the university should it ever face a financial crisis the ability to access the endowment both principal and earnings as a short term loan. The economics alums behind the push are said to have a 25 year horizon to fulfill all of its initial goals which they plan to evaluate every 5-10 years and add on to the 25 year plan.

With only 2 of the top 10 ranked economic programs coming from public universities and no HBCUs in the top 100 this group faces an immense uphill battle. Especially given most top economic programs have budgets in excess of $60 million dollars and at least 50 faculty – Virginia State currently has approximately a $135 million total university budget and 6 faculty in the economics department for perspective. Ultimately, this group of alum has taken ownership of their department’s future with the establishment of this endowment. The success of it will eventually produce the largest number of African American graduates in the economics field annually as well as possibly create a new sub-field of economics research in Diaspora economics. There is no doubt that eventually not only will there be a Federal Reserve Governor coming from this group but eventually a Federal Reserve Chairman. Alums taking ownership of the future of their departments as de facto “shareholders” and strategist from the front lines is what we need to promote more of. Hopefully the traditional way of doing things where alums have been excluded from the strategy sessions often times will give way as alums not only seek to have their voices heard but are doing so by putting their money where their mouth is.

2011’s Top 20 HBCU Research Institutions

                       HBCU                                                           Research Expenditures

  1. Jackson State University                      $42.7 million
  2.  Howard University                               $36.4 million
  3.  Meharry Medical College                    $34.2 million
  4.  North Carolina A&T University         $28.8 million
  5.  Morehouse School of Medicine          $27.1 million
  6.  Florida A&M University                      $24.0 million
  7.  Hampton University                             $21.1 million
  8.  University of the Virgin Islands         $18.1 million
  9.  Tuskegee University                             $15.0 million
  10.  Morgan State University                     $12.3 million
  11.  Tennessee State University                $12.1 million
  12.  Alcorn State University                       $11.7 million
  13.  Prairie View A&M University            $10.8 million
  14.  Alabama A&M University                  $9.0 million
  15.  Virginia State University                    $8.3 million
  16.  Delaware State University                 $8.1 million
  17.  Norfolk State University                    $7.9 million
  18.  South Carolina State University       $7.6 million
  19.  Clark Atlanta University                    $7.5 million
  20.  University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff    $7.2 million

COMBINED TOTAL                                      $349.9 million
Additional Notes:

The Top 20 HBCU Research Institutions comprise 78% of ALL HBCU Research.
ALL HBCU Research Expenditures COMBINED TOTAL $448.2 million
The Top 20 HWCU Research Expenditures COMBINED TOTAL $16.4 billion Top 20 average HWCU – $820 million vs. Top 20 average HBCU – $17.5 million

Source: National Science Foundation