Did Betsy DeVos Just Save Bethune-Cookman, Can HBCUs Share Expenses to Save Money, and D.C. Moves Closer to Supporting New Howard U Hospital

Even in the midst of a pandemic, there are opportunities for HBCUs to do more of what they’ve always done - build black capital in politics and economics.
Nothing about our world will survive with status quo approaches - but how early are we willing to start the work that we know the future will require?


Dept. of Ed COVID-19 Funding to HBCUs Exceeds $930 Million

Three years ago this month, Bethune-Cookman University graduates and their supporters booed the hell out of Sec. DeVos. Former BCU President Edison Jackson acted a damn fool, and the footage became a symbol of just how much the HBCU community wanted no parts of the Trump Administration or its pledged support to HBCUs.

In a span of the last four weeks, Bethune-Cookman University has received more than $14.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education through funding allotted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Students at BCU will receive $3.3 million of the funding with the rest earmarked for financial relief of costs associated with pandemic-related closures and operational changes.

The $14.6 million is part of more than $930 million committed to all historically black colleges and universities under the pandemic response stimulus legislation — but more importantly, the total reserved for unrestricted use by BCU totals more than $11 million; an amount which exceeds the $8 million that Bethune-Cookman President Brent Chrite said in February would be necessary to save the school’s accreditation.

"This Administration is committed to the success of HBCUs, Minority Serving Institutions, and the students they serve. Each institution is unique and is an important part of this country's educational fabric," said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. "By providing additional support to these important institutions, we can help ensure they emerge from this crisis stronger than before. I encourage these institutions, like all others, to use these funds to provide emergency grants to students during this challenging time, and to expand remote learning programs and build IT capacity. These are challenging times, but if we take this opportunity to transform higher education to meet the demands of the 21st century, our nation's students and higher education as a whole will be better for it."

In theory, the government has saved Bethune-Cookman University.

Many of us who had seen for years that HBCUs like Bethune-Cookman would need saving tried to plead with the HBCU community to be more politically savvy, to see a controversial administration as an opportunity for survival on the tail end of a harmful administration, and to stop allowing racism to be the sole factor in determining if schools would live or die by our own pride.

The HBCU community may not have listened to the advice of those appealing for bipartisanship, but a lot of important leaders in the community didn’t listen to the outrage of our community members. And the boldness of those leaders has paid off. In the dark months and possible years of pandemic response, black colleges will have a real chance to survive.

An average $9 million payout to every HBCU doesn’t solve every problem, but it solves enough to suggest that none of the schools, in theory, should close by Jan. 1, 2021.

That payout, combined with Pell Grant expansion, forgiven Hurricane Katrina loans, deferred capital financing loans, the reauthorization of mandatory funding for HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions, helps to put the harm caused to HBCUs by the Obama Administration a little further away in the rear-view mirror and challenges misrepresentations in our communities about the relationship between black colleges and the Trump Administration.

With all things considered, the last four years have been good for HBCUs, and the last four weeks have underscored that reality. To be clear, Betsy DeVos is not a black history heroine, and the good for HBCUs has not erased the pain of White House-level racism from our conscience.

But the moral of the story is that for every meeting we criticized as a “photo opp,” for every appearance by a secretary or a president on an HBCU campus that we revolted against on social media, the price paid by those HBCU presidents and advocates has come back to the community in the form of billions. Those billions have paid bills, enrolled students, and kept doors open that for some schools should have been closed 10 years ago.

That approach should extend from HBCU presidents and chancellors working with Congress to students and alumni working with city and state legislators in the same way.

Everyone — from advocates to alumni to activists, must be willing to work with politicians from both sides of the aisle. We should always be in a position to broker honestly with any elected official, and ready to tether our political power to their willingness to help expand that position.

In a game of deal or die, our leaders deserve a lot more credit for playing the game to win, and a lot more support from the rest of us heading into the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

Alabama A&M Cloud Computing May be a Sign of Opportunity for HBCU Cost Savings

Alabama A&M University last week announced a new partnership that will allow the campus to integrate higher-level cloud computing into its campus technology profile.

AAMU partnered with Nutanix to deliver a private cloud solution that was secure, flexible, and scalable so it could easily adapt to AAMU’s needs, as well as those of other universities. The Nutanix Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) platform offers a flexible solution that gives IT teams the freedom of choice to work with the technology that best suits their academic and administrative needs.

"For us, flexibility is among the top benefits of Nutanix," said Dr. Clarke. "We don’t want to be boxed in to using a specific solution; we want people to have options. For example, with Nutanix we can run multiple hypervisors, instead of being stuck with a proprietary product. We selected Nutanix AHV for our institutions, but can also offer other universities the flexibility to choose the best vendor for their needs."

Schools around the country are looking for ways to scale-up academic program access and student services for exclusive online delivery. The goal is to prepare for a possible fall reopening where students and faculty aren’t able to physically be on campus in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

But this program also offers other unique opportunities for HBCUs in Alabama and beyond. What if HBCUs, through statewide or regional partnerships, decided to split costs on essential services like technology infrastructure, supplies servicing, and campus maintenance?

What would costs look like if groups of HBCUs entered into shared service agreements with a single beverage vendor, bookstore retailer, or foodservice supplier? How much money would smaller, private HBCU campuses with unstable enrollment trends from year to year, be able to save in partnering with larger schools for contract bidding and awards?

If Bennett College and North Carolina A&T State University aren’t sharing services, should they consider it? Alabama A&M and Oakwood University? What about Shaw University and Saint Augustine’s University?

Of course, contracts for goods and services at HBCUs are political exercises as much as they are financial ones. The food service universe at HBCUs largely revolves around six non-black corporations, while black-owned companies hustle to break through nearly impenetrable walls to build relationships and bid for contracts already bought and purchased by companies giving presidents individual perks or promises of support for campus construction.

But maybe COVID-19 and all of its dangers and distancing requirements present an opportunity for campuses to be smarter about the ways they spend money, how they can save it, and the opportunities they have to build black-owned billion-dollar companies. While many campuses are providing students with rebates for uneaten meals and unused services, its difficult to find any current HBCU vendor announcing the suspension of charges for service, equipment, or goods.

The pandemic is giving the HBCU community a new vision for how to do business — can leaders take advantage of it to save money and build black wealth at the same time?

Howard Preps for $300 Million in Support for New Hospital

Months after Howard University leaders and advocates sparred with Washington D.C. lawmakers and corporate bodies over a plan to marginalize the university’s hospital operation, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has advanced a proposal that will help the flagship HBCU to construct a new facility.

The Washington Post reports on the proposal, which awaits approval from the D.C. City Council, to clear more than $375 million for two new hospitals in enclaves where low-income African American families have lobbied for expanded healthcare options for decades.

“Generations of racism and discrimination have put thousands of black Washingtonians at a major health disadvantage,” Bowser said at a news conference on Thursday. “We also know that today our hospitals are not entirely evenly distributed across our city, with most of our health-care centers concentrated in Northwest Washington.”

In 2018, the District squashed an effort to build a new medical facility in the Howard service area footprint in partnership with predominantly white George Washington University. Critics of the plan said that it threatened Howard’s standing as a teaching hospital and provider of critical services for black residents.