Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of streaming giant Netflix, and his wife, philanthropist Patty Quillin, have gifted $120 million, the largest-ever contribution by individuals for scholarships to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The couple announced last week that Spelman College, Morehouse College and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) will receive $40 million each in an effort to provide educational equity for Black students.
“We’ve supported these three extraordinary institutions for the last few years because we believe that investing in the education of Black youth is one of the best ways to invest in America’s future,” the couple said in a statement. “Both of us had the privilege of a great education and we want to help more students — in particular students of color — get the same start in life.”
Nevertheless, the announcement spurred a conversation on social media about the same HBCUs receiving huge financial gifts and support while many others go unnoticed and struggle to stay open.
“Y’all do know it’s 107 other HBCUs right? There’s more HBCUs than just Morehouse, Spelman, and Howard,” Dashawn J., a Clark Atlanta University alumni, tweeted in response to the news.
Another commenter: “I would like to see more of these major gifts going to the other smaller, less well known, and typically public HBCUs. The ones that are typically solely dependent on state funds to function even though state education budgets are always getting reduced.”
When some pointed out that students who don’t attend Morehouse and Spelman could apply to UNCF for scholarship money, others countered that there are 107 HBCUs and only 37 of them are a part of UNCF.
Jarrett Carter Sr., a Morgan State University alumnus and founding editor of HBCUDigest.com, said that while it’s true that the same few schools often get the lion’s share of the big gifts and notoriety, he doesn’t think it should be criticized.
“A lot of students, particularly on social media, are saying how come they only give to three HBCUs — Morehouse, Spelman and Howard. It’s like they only know three of them exist,” Carter said. “I don’t have a problem with that because any HBCU receiving a gift is somewhat of a win for all HBCUs, because it creates the conversation about philanthropy, period.”
Carter said philanthropic gifts aren’t measured by fairness.
“People give where they want to give,” he said. “They give where they have an affinity or they have familiarity, [or] where they think that gift is going to be best used. No matter what era you’re in, that’s always going to be true, whether it was Carnegie in the 1900s or Quillin and Hastings now.”
Carter also contends that more visibility doesn’t necessarily mean a better financial situation, especially for private institutions such as Howard, Morehouse and Spelman.
“Morehouse got $40 million last week, but last month they had to furlough faculty and staff,” he said. “The president and the entire executive cabinet had to take a pay cut. Morehouse ain’t good.
“They’re not flush with cash, even with $40 million in the bank, even with Robert Smith gifting a whole graduating class … paying off their loans, even with Oprah Winfrey giving them millions,” Carter said. “It cost $5 million a month to operate Morehouse.”
Carter said the best way to help all HBCUs from schools such as LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee, to Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, is to send students to these institutions.
“No one can give more than tuition revenue can give to these HBCUs and faster … and without certain restrictions,” he said.
Carter said when philanthropists give money to an HBCU, they normally stipulate where the money goes. If it’s allocated for scholarships, it can’t be used to refurbish buildings, hire faculty, give raises, improve security or technology, whereas tuition revenue doesn’t come with such restrictions.
“I don’t care how much money any school gets,” he said. “You can’t out-fundraise tuition revenue. Go to these schools and give to these schools.”