Economic woes challenge historically black colleges

ATLANTA --- Historically black colleges and universities, which for decades have been educating students who can't afford to go -- or can't imagine going -- elsewhere, have been particularly challenged by the nation's economic meltdown.

Enrollments at the schools have declined at the same time endowments have dropped and fundraising sources have dried up. The same is true at most universities, but often students at HBCUs need more aid to stay on course.

"What's most difficult for our institutions is that they are tuition-driven," said Michael Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund. "They don't have large endowments, and even the ones who do have seen a large reduction in the value of those endowments."

One recently released survey on 791 American public and private colleges reported that endowments fell 3 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30, and a smaller group estimated a 23 percent drop in the first five months of fiscal year 2009, which began in July. The numbers represent a decline nearly double that of any full-year return since such figures were first tracked in 1974.

Only three black colleges -- Howard University in Washington, D.C., Spelman College in Atlanta and Hampton University in Virginia -- had endowments among the top 300 included in the survey. Most lack the resources and strength in alumni giving.

Most students at the colleges combine grants and loans to fund their educations, Mr. Lomax said.

An Associated Press analysis showed that 62 percent of students at 83 four-year HBCUs receive Pell Grants. More than 90 percent of those recipients come from families earning less than $40,000 a year.

Mr. Lomas expects HBCUs to survive, but they might have to make some painful choices.

Spelman recently announced it is phasing out its department of education in favor of a shared teacher certification program based at Clark Atlanta University that will also include Morehouse College.

Other cost-cutting measures at Spelman include eliminating 35 positions and closing campus for the week after graduation in May. Clark Atlanta cut 100 workers and canceled its physical education classes last week after a drop in spring enrollment. At Morehouse, 25 adjunct professors, a third of the school's part-time instructors, were released.

At Morehouse, enrollment is down 8 percent from last year and the school's endowment is down to about $110 million from a high of $150 million.

A bright spot has emerged among the bad news at Morehouse: An increase in alumni donors, especially first-time givers.

Similarly, Spelman has seen 1,000 more donors, a 67 percent increase in alumnae giving and a 250 percent increase in giving from parents. However, in both cases, while the donors have increased, the gifts have been smaller, said spokeswoman Angela Johnson.

MORRIS BROWN IS DENIED EXTENSION ATLANTA --- Atlanta water officials have denied extra time for Morris Brown College to pay its $214,000 water bill. Atlanta Watershed Management spokeswoman Jennifer Carlile says the college sought a 30-day extension to pay, but the bill must be paid Tuesday or the water service will be shut off. The historically black college had only $35,000 earmarked for the water bill Saturday. Interim President Stanley Pritchett says the college hopes to have a plan to present to the city today. -- Associated Press