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Giving and getting

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Paying for college

Giving and getting

With the holidays and giving season fast approaching, many of us find ourselves getting into the “giving spirit.” We give our time and treasures to our loved ones, exercise charity for those who are less fortunate than ourselves and pay a little more attention to causes that are important to us.

In fact, as a country we are giving more than ever before, according to a recent report in Giving USA. Americans gave over $427 billion to charities in 2018, which was higher than 2017 when charitable giving exceeded the $400 billion mark for the first time in our nation’s history. The highest charitable giving recipients are religious organizations and their causes, followed by philanthropic efforts supporting educational institutions and school systems, with annual giving to higher education institutions reaching $46.7 billion last year. This also represented a record-setting level for donations and financial gifts to colleges and universities, despite having fewer individuals making donations than in previous years. 

This is good news for higher education in many respects. Funding received from donations by institutions is often used for financial aid, to help offset the cost of attendance and reduce the need for students to borrow in order to finance their education, but these donations can also be used for operations and to make important updates and repairs to the campus. In an era in which the cost and benefits of earning a college degree are being vigorously debated by some, private gifts to colleges can certainly help to settle some of those arguments.

However, it is important to note that along with other inequities that have existed in higher education, minority-serving institutions such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly Black institutions (PBIs) received approximately 1.4% of all giving to higher education institutions. For every dollar donated to an HBCU or a PBI, other institutions received $68. This gap has persisted for many years and has caused me to ask the following questions: Is this disparity due to non-HBCU or PBI institutions simply being better at fundraising? Do they have more generous and wealthy donors? Are their alumni and corporate partners more engaged and therefore give more? 

Possibly, but in my opinion, not absolutely. It is a well-known fact that HBCUs educate over 220,000 African American students and over one-third of African American undergraduates who eventually earn a STEM Ph.D. It is also known that PBIs, such as Indiana’s own Martin University, largely serve urban and low-income communities, which help to create pathways for economic development, social mobility and career advancement. HBCU and PBI graduates also help to create and advance diversity and inclusion for organizations of all types, making them stronger, more innovative and often more profitable. 

Because of the value that HBCUs and PBIs provide to our country and communities, our institutions should not take a back seat to others when it comes to giving. There is an old saying that goes, “You only get what you give,” which suggests a relationship between effort and benefit. If we want colleges and universities whose primary missions are focused on educating minority students and strengthening underserved communities, then we must reach into our giving spirits and support them more with our time, treasures and talents. Doing this will result in much stronger, more vibrant and higher-level community anchor institutions that will go further, serve more effectively, create legacies and transform lives. Happy holidays.

Dr. Sean Huddleston is president of Martin University, Indiana’s only predominately Black institution (PBI) of higher education.

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