Historically Black Colleges Land $124 Million Donation to Boost Enrollment, Graduation Rates

Media September 13, 2023

“A philanthropic group whose funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MacKenzie Scott is giving $124 million to historically Black colleges and universities, aiming to shore up—and ultimately expand—the financially strapped schools.

The money, from Blue Meridian Partners, will go to the HBCU Transformation Project, which launched last year and currently provides grants to 40 public and private schools for projects focused on improving enrollment, retention and graduation rates. Much of the funding targets essentials such as technology upgrades, data collection and academic support programs, which Blue Meridian says can help set the institutions up for long-term sustainability.

The project is a collaboration run by the United Negro College Fund, Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Partnership for Education Advancement. In addition to making grants directly to schools, it lets institutions team up to pay lower rates for tools such as student-support chatbots and fundraising software, and to exchange tips on what is working well.

Blue Meridian pools funds from donors, who also include the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and the Ballmer Group, and backs projects related to social and economic mobility.

Historically Black colleges have seen a renaissance of sorts in recent years, with prospective student interest spiking in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests and again after the Supreme Court ruling this summer that made some Black students question how welcome they would be at predominantly white institutions. But the country’s roughly 100 HBCUs generally have tiny endowments and tight budgets, and cater to students with significant financial need, making growth a challenge.

‘I have an asset that’s performing well, but is underinvested,’ said Jim Shelton, president and chief investment and impact officer at Blue Meridian, noting that HBCUs already educate a significant share of Black doctors, teachers and lawyers. ‘If I put in more resources, what could happen?’

The HBCU Transformation Project aims to bring on more school partners with the new round of funding. It has set ambitious goals: reduce historical funding inequities for HBCUs, boost enrollment at HBCUs by 90,000 over the next three years—roughly a 40% jump from 2020 figures—and increase the number of HBCU graduates by 22,000, or 54%.

Blue Meridian first teamed up with the Transformation Project backers during the pandemic, sending $15 million in 2020 to help schools survive the crisis.

The philanthropy then invested in the HBCU Transformation Project—a collaboration among those three groups—last year, with a gift of $60 million. Shelton says the latest gift is a response to early signs of success, including significant enrollment and retention increases at some of the first partner schools.”

Read more in the Wall Street Journal


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