Earlier this month I read an article about Wilberforce University alumni pledging $2 million to support their alma mater and it made me feel really good. I am a strong proponent of alumni giving and just recently I co-authored an article which questioned whether HBCU alumni should give back even when not asked. This topic has been debated for years as many HBCU alumni feel that it’s the institution’s responsibility to ask first. Ironically, this line of thinking is consistent with research that has long shown that the number one reason that people don’t support various charities is that they are not asked.
Wilberforce Alumni Association president Talbert Grooms states,
As alumni, we have the responsibility to commit our time and effort to developing and maintaining scholarship programs, assisting in recruiting efforts and supporting the mission of the University as well as the students. Each and every one of us has Wilberforce University to thank for the opportunities we have been given, and the success we have realized following our graduation.
The sentiment of Mr. Grooms’ statement is so true and is often shared and repeated by HBCU alumni throughout the country. I do have one question, however: Why as HBCU alumni do we wait until the doors are about to close before stepping-up and giving back? Why must there always be an emergency for us to answer the call? Why aren’t we initiating the call?
While I commend the effort by the Wilberforce alumni to make such a pledge, the decision was prompted by the institution’s possible loss of accreditation due to financial deficits and low enrollment. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident as we have witnessed other schools such Elizabeth City State University, Morris Brown College, St. Augustine’s University, Shaw University, and others make headlines recently for experiencing many of the same challenges. In each of these instances, much of the blame has been placed at the feet of the federal government for not doing more, but how long can we continue to blame others when we are not willing to do for ourselves?
Something to think about: When you were a student at an HBCU, 90 percent of the student body was on some sort of financial aid and regrettably, that figure is the same if not higher today. Someone paid it forward for you and whereas HBCU alumni should be willing to return the favor, they do not. HBCU alumni giving ranges from 7-12 percent on average yet our buying power is expected to eclipse $1.1 trillion in 2015. Are we really going to go shopping with all that money? How much more stuff do we need?
As African Americans, our history suggest that we have been philanthropic since arriving in this country in the 1600’s and there’s significant research showing that we give 25 percent more of our disposable income to charity than do Whites. However, when it comes to education, the one area that has helped to level the professional playing field for so many of us, our actions or lack there of indicate that it’s someone else’s responsibility. As HBCU graduates, we are the immediate beneficiaries and should be the most loyal and consistent stakeholders.
The predictions suggest that we may have fewer than 100 HBCUs in the next ten-years and the 2013 closing of St. Paul’s College should be a wake up call that your alma mater might be next. How proud of your school are you? Proud enough to keep it open? One thing for sure is that Wilberforce alumni are just that proud.