Black schools feel budget pinch

Smaller reserves raise vulnerability, educators say

By: ZEKE MINAYA
Houston Chronicle
March 7, 2005

In a season of strapped state budgets, historically black colleges and universities, reliant on government funds and thin on endowments, have been particularly hard hit, according to black educators attending an annual convention Monday in Houston.

The majority of students at public black colleges and universities - about 80 percent - are on financial aid, keeping the institutions from building the kind of fiscal reserves other schools enjoy, said George C. Wright, President of Prairie View A&M University.

The endowments at historically black universities are dwarfed by those of other schools, the educators said. Howard University in Washington, D.C., often considered the capstone institution of higher learning for blacks, has the largest endowment of any historically black university, public or private, at around $315 million. The endowment for Harvard University is more than $20 billion.

"We have so many individuals who are first in their family to go to college," Wright said, "and come from backgrounds where, after graduation, they have to help support their families."

Wright was one of more than 500 educators from the nation's historically black public universities attending the sixth annual convention sponsored by the New York-based Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund.

Named after the first black Supreme Court Justice, the Marshall fund raises money specifically for historically black schools.

Created in 1987, the Marshall fund has provided more than $50 million in scholarships and other types of financial support to 47 public institutions.

"The conference gives us the opportunity to hear from colleagues about a number of issues, whether it's financial aid, the rising cost of education, or recruitment and retention of students," said Dwayne Ashley, president and chief executive officer of the scholarship fund.

zeke.minaya AT chron.com