The short answers, in order, are simple.
They asked him to do it, and then they paid him for it.
Contrary to what many alumni and students in the HBCU community believe, thinking big is not a challenge for HBCUs. It’s cultivating the resources to put big thinking into strategic action. Steve Harvey is working with Strayer University because it has the resources to make the ask and put a respectable offer on the table to have a national spokesperson with direct reach and influence over aspiring Black students.
HBCUs don’t have the resources, so they don’t make the ask. And if they did make the ask, many HBCUs would not have the infrastructure to adequately field, process and follow-up on the rush of applications they would receive as a result of the increased attention.
And before we accuse Harvey or any other Black celebrities of neglecting HBCUs by not donating their image, voice or star power to the cause, we should reflect on just how consistently Harvey and others represent for HBCUs free of charge. Much of the Black, nationally syndicated morning airspace is commandeered by authentic HBCU advocates. Steve Harvey, Rickey Smiley, Tom Joyner – all have given free airspace, free jokes, and free support for Black colleges on many occasions over many years.
It would be a safe bet that no school called and asked for the promotion. Harvey and others do it because they recognize ways to promote the HBCU brand without compromising their own. They are hard-wired to support HBCUs because they are Black men in America.
Truthfully, HBCUs need Steve Harvey to promote them about as much as Harvard needs Barack Obama to do a commercial. It’s not about what can be done to build awareness on a macro scale, but what can be done to intrigue a grassroots affinity many Black students and Black families already have for HBCUs. The history and legacy of HBCUs is hard-wired into the DNA of Black America; it is latent, and only needs to be charged with regional efforts to spur interest and confidence in what HBCUs have always done, and what they continue to do.
There are Steve Harveys all over America at the ready to support HBCUs in their communities- local newscasters, radio DJs and hosts, party promoters, chapter presidents of fraternities and sororities, preachers, entrepreneurs, and professional athletes who will do about anything within reach and reason to promote HBCUs. All HBCUs have to do is ask, and be prepared to do what it takes to build a relationship without the ‘holier than thou, Black Ivory Tower’ presentation typically associated with our schools when it comes to celebrity outreach.
If a newscaster asks you for $5,000 to host your gala – do it. Their very presence will bring you $20,000 in free media on their local affiliate. If a DJ needs $2,500 to do your homecoming party, consider it a 80 percent discount on the rates it would cost to advertise the same event on Radio One affiliates for two months.
And if the HBCU Digest asks you for advertising – you better do it: because no one else is telling your story nationally.
Strayer University can’t stay in business if it doesn’t enroll at least 40-50,000 students. HBCUs would do just fine enrolling 5-15,000 students, depending on the campus in question. It’s good business for Strayer to get Steve Harvey; and its better for HBCUs to avoid worrying about their recruitment strategy and to build our own.