Event Highlights: HBCUs: The Path to Prosperity: A Bloomberg Equality Briefing

Event Highlights

HBCUs: The Path to Prosperity
A Bloomberg Equality Briefing
September 15, 2021

By Bloomberg Live

Systemic barriers continue to persist in philanthropy when it comes to support for Black-serving nonprofits and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) These organizations receive just a sliver of the billions of dollars donated annually — $450 billion in 2019 alone. Despite HBCUs serving as an incubator for Black talent and an engine boosting the Black middle class, these institutions lack sufficient government and philanthropic funding despite a track record of providing access and opportunities for first-generation and/or Pell Grant eligible students. 

Even as recent high-profile donations have financially lifted some HBCUs, these institutions still face cumulative deficits from decades of underfunding and support. The trifecta of the Covid-19 pandemic, economic fallout and the reckoning on race highlight the critical role these institutions play in the workplace and the economy. A targeted strategy to support HBCUs is needed to provide the infrastructure required for world-class research and optimal environments for learning. 

The philanthropic ecosystem is ripe for disruption. How do we move from transactional to transformational relationships to boost these institutions? What are innovative approaches to funding besides scholarships, fellowships and research grants? How can Black executives in c-suite roles leverage their growing presence to increase equity in individual and corporate giving? Which strategies are needed to more effectively engage with HBCU alumni to fuel endowments? Additionally, how can we ensure local communities are fully invested in and connected to their hometown HBCU?

We brought together leaders from government, higher education, philanthropy and business to discuss how to ensure these institutions get the funding and support needed to continue their mission to educate and uplift diverse talent. 


Click here to view video of today’s event.


Speakers included:

  • Rep. Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. (NC-12), Founder, Bipartisan HBCU Caucus
  • Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder, Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., President, Spelman College
  • Martha L. Karsh, Founder, Karsh Family Foundation
  • Walter Kimbrough, Ph.D., President, Dillard University
  • Kevin Liles, Co-Founder and CEO, 300 Entertainment
  • Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., President and CEO, UNCF
  • Charles Phillips, Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Recognize
  • Asahi Pompey, Global Head of Corporate Engagement and President, Goldman Sachs Foundation
  • Cedric Richmond, Senior Advisor to President Biden and Director, White House Office of Public Engagement
  • Ruth J. Simmons, Ph.D., President, Prairie View A&M University
  • Senator Tim Scott, (R) South Carolina
  • Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman & CEO, Vista Equity Partners


Bloomberg Moderators:

  • Sonali Basak, Financial Correspondent, Bloomberg 
  • Shartia Brantley, Deputy New York Bureau Chief and Senior Editor, Bloomberg Live
  • Mario Parker, White House Correspondent, Bloomberg
  • Brett A. Pulley, Atlanta Bureau Chief, Bloomberg
  • David Westin, Anchor, Bloomberg Television
  • Jennifer Zabasajja, Anchor, Bloomberg Quicktake


Event Highlights:

To kick off the event, Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., President and CEO, UNCF discussed the importance of HBCUs as “primary engines of Black social and economic mobility.” Despite consistent underfunding, HBCUs “punch above their weight”: they produce 50% of all Black teachers, 70% of Black doctors, and 80% of Black judges. At the forefront of this success are the accomplishments of HBCU alumni who emerged as history-making political leaders this past year, including Howard University alumna Kamala Harris, who became the first woman elected Vice President of the United States and Morehouse College alumni Rafael Warnock, the first Black U.S senator to be elected in Georgia. Beyond the public sector, Lomax implored the audience to call upon the HBCU community as “potential partners for business and addressing the challenges of the new economy,” “from entry level positions to the C-suite”.


Next, we heard from Michael Lomax, Ph.D. and Vista Equity Partners Founder, Chairman and CEO Robert F. Smith on removing professional barriers for HBCU students. They discussed strategies for securing competitive job opportunities after graduation, specifically in the digital economy. This starts with making sure HBCU students have the skills necessary to compete. Lomax noted that HBCUs must embrace “lifelong learning, upskilling, reskilling.” “There are lots of people who are still employable in terms of their age, but are not employable in terms of their skills, and we can’t just disregard them. We have to view them as an opportunity to develop that capital.” In order to do so, Smith added, solid technological infrastructure is paramount. That’s why, as a leader in financial technologies, Smith launched the Student Freedom Initiative, which partners with Cisco and ABC Technologies to increase broadband access across HBCU campuses. This is critical, Smith stated, for two reasons: first, “You can now provide learning services and reskilling services to a community beyond those students who are on campus.” Second, “you have the potential to actually enable businesses, small and medium-sized businesses, that are in and around those communities of those schools to now actually participate in the digital economy in ways that they hadn’t before.”


Martha L. Karsh, Founder, Karsh Family Foundation and Charles Phillips, Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Recognize explored disrupting the philanthropic ecosystem toward HBCUs with Bloomberg’s Jennifer Zabasajja. To encourage their philanthropic peers to take action, Karsh said she reminds them of clear disparities between the funding of HBCUs and predominantly white institutions, to “think about why that is the case.” It’s an opportunity, she suggests, to “correct years of lost opportunity among African Americans who weren’t able to give back to their communities in the same way.” An important part of that correcting process involves exposing students to industries where wealth is created, Phillips added, including technology and financial services. “To have wealthy graduates, they need to be in the industries that create wealth.” Here, integrating efforts between businesses that donate to HBCUs and the leaders of those businesses themselves, who can participate in programs such as the Center for Black Entrepreneurship, is key.


Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., President, Spelman College, Walter Kimbrough, Ph.D., President, Dillard University, Asahi Pompey, Global Head of Corporate Engagement and President, Goldman Sachs Foundation, and Ruth J. Simmons, Ph.D., President, Prairie View A&M University discussed how philanthropists, businesses, federal agencies and alumni can help close the funding gap between HBCUs and predominantly white institutions with Bloomberg’s Brett A. Pulley. Historically Black colleges and universities have long been saddled with corporate donations with overly specific conditions, Dr. Simmons said. “When we know they are going across town to a White institution and making a very generous, unrestricted gift, and they come to us, and make a very limited, short-term gift with all kinds of restrictions, that’s tantamount to continuing a tradition of mistreatment for African American institutions,” “So we have to stand up to them and say, ‘I’m sorry, but that won’t do.’” That’s changing with a wave of multi-million dollar unrestricted donations to HBCUs from MacKenzie Scott, which were followed this year by grants from companies, including Bank of America Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Dr. Campbell added that unrestricted donations like Scott’s would endow faculty for decades. “We do have assets,” Campbell stated, “and those assets show up in the form of our faculty who are extraordinarily committed.” When it comes to the public sector, Dr. Kimbrough showed the key to federal funding is making it consistent. “What we’re looking for long-term is to say, how do we institutionalize some of this money for a longer period of time?” Finally, Asahi Pompey outlined some of Goldman Sachs’ diversity goals, from the Market Madness competition for HBCU students to securing fair compensation for new hires. “We simply need to hire more students,” Pompey stated.


In a later session, Bloomberg’s Mario Parker spoke with Representative Alma S. Adams, Ph.D., (NC-12), Founder, Bipartisan HBCU Caucus and Cedric Richmond, Senior Advisor to President Biden and Director, White House Office of Public Engagement to discuss the federal government’s role in redressing bias against HBCUs and offering meaningful institutional support. Representative Adams spoke frankly about the infrastructural needs of HBCU campuses, which are “in serious need of repair.” “We shouldn’t have to fight for crumbs,” Adams said. Director Richmond added how the White House will play a role in rectifying historical underfunding, starting by investing $4.2 billion into HBCUs. “You can’t tackle systemic racism and racial equity without bolstering up and investing in HBCUs. So we’re going to continue to invest in HBCUs, and we’re going to put money where our mouth is.” These investments, Adams and Richmond agreed, must be recognized by the private sector as a lynchpin in the professional pipeline towards getting necessary diverse talent in the workforce. Adams encouraged businesses to “understand the enormous role that they play, economically as well as academically and socially.”


Senator Tim Scott, (R) South Carolina, discussed with Bloomberg’s David Westin how federal agencies can support HBCUs. Senator Scott highlighted the IGNITE Act, a bipartisan bill which provides HBCUs with investments that often go without proper funding, such as building maintenance. “We’re not asking for special treatment of our HBCUs. What we are asking for is a level playing field within the structure of higher education that did not exist previously.” To make these changes, Scott recommended that alumni associations continue “playing a vital role in advocating on behalf of the HBCUs. ”


Finally, we heard from Kevin Liles, Co-Founder and CEO, 300 Entertainment, who discussed how alumni can garner a pipeline for financial support towards HBCUs with Bloomberg’s Shartia Brantley. As an honorary chair for Morgan State’s fundraising campaign which raised more than $250 million dollars, Liles provided insight on why alumni engagement is so important for HBCUs: “I think historically a lot of people forget where they come from. But there’s something about an HBCU, you can’t forget from whence you came because whether it’s walking the yard or the cafeteria or their favorite concert… you have to go back and you have to give back at a place that raised us.” 


“Every CEO has a choice to put leadership around them that looks like the people they are servicing,” he said.

This Bloomberg Equality briefing  was In Collaboration With



Join the Conversation: #BloombergEquality
Instagram: @BloombergLive
LinkedIn: Bloomberg Live
Twitter: @BloombergLive

Interested in more Bloomberg Live virtual events? Sign up here to get alerts.