USA: A Black Miami university struggles to survive financial woes – By Mohamed Hamaludin

By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

The 142-year-old Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens has been facing financial difficulties significant enough to be placed on accreditation probation. There is breathing space perhaps into 2023 but the future in uncertain.

To compound the problem, a majority of faculty members passed a no-confidence vote against President Jaffus Hardrick in August, The Miami Times reported, citing SurveyMonkey.

The area’s only Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) school was founded in1879 as the Florida Baptist Institute in Live Oak, just outside of Tallahassee. With the support of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, classes began in 1880.In one form or other, the school relocated to Jacksonville, then to St. Augustine, before moving to what was then unincorporated Dade County in 1968.     

Along the way, Jacksonville native J. Rosamond Johnson, a music teacher, composed music for “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a poem his brother James Weldon Johnson wrote and is now regarded as the “Negro National Anthem,” first performed by a choir that included its students at a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday anniversary in 1900.

But the school has walked a financial tightrope and entered a critical phase when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which granted accreditation in 1951, placed it under “monitoring” status and then probation. The commission’s board of trustees will meet in June to decide its next step. Loss of accreditation would halt federal financial aid, a lifeline for such a school.

The university has suffered a steady enrollment decline affecting its bottom line and, consequently, ability to satisfy the accreditation commission’s requirements. Enrollment is slowly increasing but will not be enough to meet financial needs. As a result, remedial action has been announced, including a 10 percent pay cut for more than 80 employees, elimination of15 faculty positions, dropping18 of the 28 undergraduate degree programs, a hiring freeze, travel restrictions and up to 30 percent cuts in department budgets. Borrowing policies will be tightened, loans from the endowment fund will be repaid more quickly and ways for raising money from the use of its 44-acre property will be explored.

A government bailout is very unlikely, if history is any guide. A joint study by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the American Council of Education found that federal funding overall declined by a few hundred dollars a year per student between 2003 and 2015 but, for HBCUs, it dropped by $1,800, Michael Lomax, president of the UNCF, which provides aid to 30 HBCUs, wrote in The Atlantic. Also, all 101 HBCUs received a total of $1.2 billion in federal research grants in 2014 but a Journal of Negro Education study found that, for example, Johns Hopkins University alone got $1.6 billion in federal, state and local grants that year.

With regards to private donations, an Institute for Higher Education Policy study found that gifts and endowments to HBCUs totaled just over $860 per student, compared to $6,600 for majority European American universities, Lomax said.

A few donors have been generous, notably MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has so far donated $560 million to 23 HBCUs. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin gave $40 million to the UNCF and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg distributed a total of $100 million to four medical schools. But Bloomberg also donated $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins, his alma mater. Other private donations have included $219 million to the University of Maryland, $500 million to the University of Oregon to build a STEM-focused campus and $50 million to Binghamton University in New York to build a baseball stadium.

The result, Lomax said, Education Department data showed that the total endowment holdings of all 101 HBCUs is at about $3.4 billion or less than the amount held by just 25 of the more than 700 predominantly European American universities; Harvard University, whose history includes ties to slavery,has$40 billion.

Lomax also pointed to “the disproportionate sanctions and loss of accreditation for HBCUs. ”To begin with, the accreditation commission, which was created in 1917,barredHBCUs from its roster until after 1930 and did not grant any of them full membership until 1956. It “has regularly sanctioned and stripped accreditation from HBCUs for lack of financial stability at much higher rates than any other type of institution.” As a result, while the 77 HBCUs accredited by the commission comprise less than 10 percent of its 800 member-schools, they accounted for more than 40 percent of all those who lost accreditation in the past 30 years, Lomax said.

The playing field could be made a bit less uneven if wealthy African Americans step in with donations. The seven richest ones are worth $18 billion, according to Forbes. They include from Robert F. Smith, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, who pledged in 2019 to pay off the student loans of the entire Morehouse College graduating class, totaling $34 million. Also, last year Smith donated $50 million to the Student Freedom Initiative which HBCU low-income students.

Other reports indicated that the top 10 richest African Americans in entertainment/business have a combined wealth of more than $5 billion. The top 10 NBA players earn a total of more than $550 million. An NFL quarterback earns about $5.7 million and there are currently 10 African Americans among them, paid a total of $57 million.

To be sure, Florida Memorial has to sort out administration problems and it is a fact that it competes for students with other area schools such as the public Florida International University and Miami Dade College and the private Barry University, St. Thomas University and the University of Miami. Also, there are other HBCU schools in Florida: the public Florida A&M University and the private Edward Waters College in Tallahassee and Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach. But Florida Memorial is Miami’s own and, if it closes, the community will lose a piece of its soul.

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who worked for several years at The Guyana Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating in 1984 to the United States, where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a column for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • wally n  On 12/10/2021 at 2:32 pm

    There are as stated many wealthy black Americans, you would think they would be will to plug this hole, maybe they don’t realize that “globalization” will allow many companies to fill senior positions with foreigners, the least they can do is to ensure these colleges/Universities survive so that black Americans may grab a piece of the pie, closing window.

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