By Pamela E. Foster
Special to NNPA
NASHVILLE, TN — While some historically black colleges and universities are cutting sports to generate money, Nashville’s Tennessee State University is strategically distributing football tickets to donors to accomplish the same mission.
“I’m getting calls not about jobs or contracts, but about football tickets,” TSU president Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover said at a workshop of the June 26-29 National Newspaper Publishers Association conference in Nashville. “I have about 3,000 on the list and I have to get
that down to 40 seats.”
Rewarding donors with football tickets is nothing new in the higher education world, but it is a sticking point between HBCUs and black newspapers, about 150 of which are members of NNPA and which once received many of the football tickets that now go to donors
instead. It’s all part of the longstanding financial struggle that is intensifying for HBCUs.
Before its recent closure, St. Paul’s College in Virginia cut its sports program to try to salvage finances. Paul Quinn College in Dallas converted the playing field of its money-losing football team into a sustainable revenue-generating farm. Other HBCUs also have discussed sports cuts in this age of rising costs in higher education.
Glover was among three Nashville HBCU presidents and top officials addressing HBCU’s primary concerns at a June 27 session titled “HBCU’s Facing Challenges Amid Efforts to Stay Financially Viable and Competitive.” The other two were Dr. Forrest E. Harris, Sr., president of American Baptist College, and Dr. Charles P. Mouton, dean of the school of medicine and SVP for health affairs at Meharry Medical College. The panelists and audience also discussed such issues as the negative financial impact on HBCUs of more stringent credit requirements for parent and student loans and the low enrollment of male students, who represent about 30 percent of black college students.
In addition to how HBCUs are generating money, much of the discussion pointed out other sticking points between HBCUs and NNPA members, most notably how the black press covers HBCUs through its BlackPressUSA.com news service and individual papers. Meharry’s Mouton said HBCUs are unlike celebrities who say any kind of press is good press. Instead, “Our press has to always be good,” he said.
Veteran journalist and journalism recruiter Reginald Stuart moderated the discussion and joined participating NNPA representatives in reminding HBCUs what they can do to improve their black press coverage.
This includes writing for op-ed pages, promoting their faculty experts as resources for stories, and providing important, not just impressive, information about their finances and other issues.
George Curry, an NNPA columnist and former editor of Emerge magazine, said that NNPA will in the near future start a feature for its member papers that focuses on one HBCU at a time telling whatever part of its story it wants to disseminate. A crop of conglomerate HBCU related entities designed to raise money and get out the word of HBCU successes,such as Star Bright Donations and HBCU Story, have emerged to help at this critical financial time. But these friendly entities cannot do what the HBCUs
themselves must do, said Memphis fundraising expert Melvin B. Shaw, coowner
of the firm Saad&Shaw and coauthor of the how-to fundraising books The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts and Prerequisites for Fundraising Success.
He said that while courting donors with the likes of football tickets is a must, HBCUs as a whole have not yet done what they really must do to court the money necessary to keep the schools alive.
“These schools have got to invest in the capacity to raise money,” Shaw said.
“These schools must hire people of power, influence, and wealth.” For example, “Spelman and Claflin in South Carolina have good fundraising programs, Howard just had a successful fundraising campaign, and Hampton University’s
board is a good example.”
Shaw added that it is not just HBCUs courting capital, but also America’s black and general business communities’ personally committing to the success of HBCUs that will secure the schools’ futures.
“The black press should put a challenge to businesses,” Shaw said. “These corporations have expertise and they need to use it for these schools. Experts could give a year, two years, three years. They do it all the time for the United Way. They do it for the Red Cross. We’ll never get these institutions back if we lose them.”
Dr. Robert Jennings, president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, was unable to join the panel discussion. He said in a recent article in Diverse Education that the amount of money the HBCUs and their friendly benefactors are raising never will be enough, and that it is imperative to save HBCUs.
“This can only be accomplished if Congress increases its level of support to colleges and universities, especially HBCUs, and alumni give at higher levels,” Jennings said. “Business and industry must also recognize that these institutions play a viable role in supplying a literate citizenry who often becomes their workforce.
“Finally, all Americans must understand that we are losing our competitive edge and that HBCUs, like Lincoln, need support to meet the challenges ahead….”