Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are celebrating a major investment from a philanthropic group that aims to enhance their enrollment, graduation and employment rates. The HBCU Transformation Project, a collaborative venture between the United Negro College Fund, Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Partnership for Education Advancement, announced on Wednesday a $124 million gift from Blue Meridian Partners.
A vote of confidence in HBCUs
The donation will expand the work of the project, which has already received $75 million from Blue Meridian since 2020. The project works with 40 HBCUs, both public and private, with more schools expected to join before the end of the year. The funds will be used to improve efficiency, infrastructure and pathways to economic mobility at these institutions, according to a news release by the HBCU Transformation Project.
Michael Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF, which is acting as an intermediary overseeing the funding, called the donation a vote of confidence in the coalition. “This very significantly scaled grant from them signals to the philanthropic community that this is a really good investment to make,” he said.
Jim Shelton, president and chief investment and impact officer of Blue Meridian Partners, said the project’s early results on improving enrollment and other core operations were strong. “It made it relatively straightforward to say, ‘Clearly, we’re just beginning this work. Institutions have been underinvested and need more investment, and we believe that we can play a catalytic role in bringing resources to the table,’” he said, adding that they were actively seeking additional support from other funders to expand to more schools.
A lifeline during the pandemic
The HBCU Transformation Project was launched in 2020 as a response to the challenges faced by HBCUs during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of these schools had to close their campuses and switch to online learning, which required significant investments in technology and training.
“One of the things that we were concerned about was whether or not HBCUs were going to survive because we knew that HBCUs didn’t have large endowments, didn’t have the resources that could sustain them,” said Harry Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF).
Blue Meridian first provided funds to support HBCUs at the start of the pandemic to help cover their operating costs. Some of the schools used the money to buy customer relationship management platforms to integrate their applications for enrollment and financial aid, which were previously done manually. Others used it to train instructors to teach online and upgrade their classrooms and student facilities.
The project also helped HBCUs leverage data and analytics to improve their decision-making and performance. For example, some schools used data dashboards to monitor student retention and graduation rates, identify areas of improvement and intervene when necessary.
A catalyst for change
The HBCU Transformation Project aims to not only help HBCUs survive but also thrive in the post-pandemic era. The project’s vision is to increase enrollment by 20%, graduation rates by 15% and employment rates by 10% across its member institutions by 2026.
The project also hopes to create a network of collaboration and innovation among HBCUs, as well as with other partners in higher education, philanthropy and industry. The project’s leaders believe that HBCUs have a unique role and potential in advancing racial equity and social justice in America.
“HBCUs have done more with less for years, and this is I call it an investment, because we have to produce different outcomes, we want to increase enrollment, we want to increase our retention of students, (and) we want to have increased graduation rates,” Lomax said.