What MacKenzie Scott’s Millions Meant For HBCUs

In October, Madison Byrdie checked her financial aid statement and noticed something had changed. A $1,500 credit had been applied to his tuition bill overnight.

The previous week, the sophomore at Xavier University of Louisiana had spoken to her mother about getting another job — she was already working as a live-in assistant — to help cover some of her school bills. It had been a stressful semester, searching for scholarships, applying for paid internships, and organizing on-campus events, all while maintaining a 3.75 GPA.

Looking ahead, she knew she didn’t have enough money to pay for two more years of college.

But then came the good news. In the fall, Xavier presented 60 students with $3,000 need-based scholarships to be distributed over the school year. The funds came through a historic windfall: philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s $20 million gift to the university.

It’s been just over a year since Scott announced that she had added nearly three dozen universities – many of which were historically black – to the previously shortlist of institutions to which she planned to pay billions of her fortune. . During this time, most of them started making money work. They use it in multiple ways: need-based scholarships for students, improving working conditions for faculty and staff, and adding programs in STEM and the arts.

How these colleges have used the money reveals what happens when chronically underfunded institutions have access to large unrestricted donations. This transformation has occurred at institutions that are usually overlooked, places like Bowie State University in Maryland and Voorhees College in South Carolina. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen that amount at multiple institutions,” said Steve D. Mobley Jr., assistant professor of higher education and administration at the University of Alabama. “Some HBCUs are often selected to earn a lot of money.”

A year later, the money has already improved the lives of some people who live and work on these campuses. Students with lighter tuition fees. Better paid and better cared for employees. High school students with access to visionary artists. “People don’t realize how little things like this impact people and allow them to pursue their passion or give back to the world or just do the things they want without the pressure of life. money,” Byrdie said.

Money for students

Last year, nearly every HBCU that received a donation from Scott pledged to direct a portion of the funding toward need-based scholarships for students. Xavier, who was on Scott’s first list of beneficiaries, expanded his need-based scholarship fund by $15 million, according to a report detailing how trustees used the money.

Prairie View A&M University, which received $50 million from Scott, has allocated $10 million for its Panther Success Grant program, which helps juniors and seniors move closer to graduation. More than 4,000 students have received scholarships and 431 of them have graduated by summer 2021. In an email to The ChronicleJames M. Palmer, the provost, said the funds were the “critical difference” that kept students enrolled during the pandemic, which limited work opportunities.

We will try to tackle valedictorians with full scholarships.

Prairie View has also invested $10 million in a scholarship endowment aimed at recruiting high-achieving students from nearby high schools and nationwide. “We’re going to try to go after the majors with full scholarships,” Palmer said.

North Carolina A&T State University, which received $45 million, created the February One Scholars program in honor of the fourth day students staged a sit-in at a separate lunch counter in 1960. The scholarship will award to 15 freshmen full scholarships. The institution will also pool some of Scott’s money with federal higher education emergency relief funds to help students cover technology, textbooks and living expenses during the pandemic.

Focusing on tuition relief might make sense, given the colleges Scott is targeting. A study conducted by a researcher from Rutgers University identified commonalities among the institutions that were chosen. HBCUs that received donations enrolled more first-time students than non-recipients and typically had higher tuition and fees, among other things.

The “Basic Things”

Voorhees College, which received $4 million, used part of the donation to restore health care benefits for employees. Due to high claims costs, Voorhees stopped providing a group medical plan to its employees in 2015. Paying the Affordable Care Act penalty was cheaper for the college than providing coverage, said Constance Colter -Brabham, Director of Human Resources, in an email. .

The college will now contribute 75% of employee coverage under the reinstated plan, which came into effect in January.

Similarly, North Carolina A&T granted raises to its employees for the first time in four years with the recently approved state biennial budget. With the Scott money, the university has funded new employee recognition initiatives, which will “help retain strong employees at A&T, as well as morale and job satisfaction,” according to a report obtained by The Chronicle which breaks down how the university appropriated the donation over the past year.

The donations ease some of the pressure on HBCUs to “do so much with so little,” said Mobley, of Alabama. “When you have smaller private HBCUs that can get that amount of money, it allows them to do basic things so they can move on to bigger things.”

“If you’re worried about faculty health benefits, you may literally not have time to write a grant or compete for other funding because you’re trying to meet the basic needs of your students, faculty, and administrators.”

Other institutions use Scott’s money to create new positions. Morgan State, which received $40 million, used $3 million — which the state of Maryland matched — to endow three new chairs: a chair in brain sciences, one in psychometrics and predictive analytics, and one in engineering. of cybersecurity.

The wide variety of initiatives – from core staff support to funding new positions in cutting-edge areas – would not be possible without the unlimited nature of donations.

The usefulness of unrestricted funds cannot be overstated.

“The usefulness of unrestricted funds cannot be overstated,” said Kayla Elliott, director of higher education policy at the Education Trust. She added that dedicating some of the funding to faculty support indirectly supports students. “Often institutions need to invest in faculty, in infrastructure, in indirect costs that don’t go directly to students in order to support students,” she said.

Prairie View is seeking to fill 23 new tenure-track faculty positions with the additional funding, with $10 million for faculty start-up packages. “We’re actually attracting people who were already tenured at other institutions,” Palmer said.

As Palmer looked into recruiting faculty, he wanted to make sure they also improved the conditions for existing faculty. For example, Prairie View has also invested $5 million in a faculty development endowment to support faculty research and other activities.

North Carolina A&T has established a faculty sabbatical program where two full professors per year can take paid time off to focus on projects that advance teaching, research, and service. Prior to the donation, the university had never had the resources to support such a program.

Pipeline programming

Some colleges also use the money to help middle and high school students in underserved communities. In some cases, they are using the funds to strengthen existing college readiness resources and in other cases, they have created new ones.

Xavier invested $1 million in his existing Pipeline Endowment Fund, which supports pre-college summer programs for middle and high school students. Some of the money also went to two programs for middle and high school students interested in STEM fields.

Prairie View A&M uses some of its Scott money for a similar purpose on pre-college students. The university’s Toni Morrison Writing Program will partner with local high school English departments, sponsor an annual writing contest at local schools, and offer elementary school readings accompanied by informal book discussions. with Nikki Giovanni, the poet and activist hired as the university’s first writer. in residence – all made possible by Scott’s donation.

“These programs don’t get the high dollars,” said Emma Joahanne Thomas-Smith, writing program director. “They are just as important as STEM.” Morgan State and North Carolina A&T are using the money to launch similar initiatives.

The wide variety of uses for the $560 million Scott pledged to HBCUs makes sense, given their roles in the communities they serve, said Felecia Commodore, assistant professor of higher education at Old Dominion University. . HBCUs are “an important entry point for students who are often marginalized,” Commodore said. She added that colleges often serve as engines of social mobility for students and their families, but their needs may vary.

“For some institutions, that means helping those students who need resources to graduate,” she said. “For other institutions, that may mean updating our labs because we’re trying to strengthen our engineering curriculum or our STEM programs and we’re the primary entry point for black students to access STEM degrees.”

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