HBCUs are broke. Students know it, alumni know it, corporations know it and the government knows it. The only time institutions invest money is when they stand to make money — usually around homecoming and select athletic events.
People have made a great deal of money from HBCUs looking to resolve issues with fundraising, alumni giving and community engagement, all to figure out how black colleges can turn tradition and a cultural mission into sustainable income. The question has always been, “how can we convince people to give us more money?” With tough economic times and the nation creeping dangerously close to the fallacy of ‘post-racial society,’ the answers are harder to find now more than in any other period.
Lean periods of giving and alumni engagement can be turned around in a very short period, with a very simple adjustment in the halls of the HBCU academe. Until now, HBCUs have prepared their students to be leaders in a range of industries.
But they haven’t yet taught, with consistency, to own these industries.
HBCUs must keep up the same academic rigor and heartfelt investment between faculty and student. This is not only the most endearing way to learn, but a proven system of developing high-achieving and remedial students alike on the same path to academic success. A new part must be added to this system; a challenge for each student to develop his own business as part of his academic journey.
Every HBCU freshman orientation should offer history of the university and development of a personal business plan. Students would be instructed on what they are, who they are, where they are from and how these things build a personal and professional brand. They would required to change and amend that plan, with an exit interview of how their plan developed over the course of four-to-six years at the institution.
It doesn’t even need them to pick a major, just a commitment to objectively describing what they want their life to amount to and how education, family, spirituality and society influence the personal business plan.
Between sophomore and senior year, every personal business plan must be amended to include a specific entrepreneurial goal. Engineering majors would be required to layout how they would start their own firms or defense contracting corporations. Social work majors should describe how they will develop their own non-profit organizations, education majors should have plans to open charter schools or learning centers, creative writing majors would develop the beginnings of owning a publishing house, and so on.
Throughout their years, HBCU students would be encouraged to develop their own business models with defined metrics on the success of their plan and their ability to make their businesses grow on campus, in the community, in the state, and throughout the world. HBCU foundations should not only give out academic scholarships, but start-up and seed money for the best business ideas of their students AND faculty.
By senior year, if these plans have remained relatively unchanged, all HBCUs should offer a mandatory senior seminar where those business plans would be submitted to the home states of those students in application for sole proprietorships, LLCs, or otherwise. The soon-to-be alumni would be able to expertly describe the business that they will soon own, and get new information on business taxes, small business loan programs, venture capital financing, and other business development strategies.
No HBCU student should leave the gates of their school without a diploma in one hand, and a federal tax ID confirmation letter in the other.
Like the college learning experience, some won’t make it. A few will opt for a dream of service in the military or to work for a company they really like. Everyone can’t and shouldn’t be a business owner.
But if HBCUs condition students to think as owners and not workers, the effort will yield the alumni who own property and business brands that will fund their respective alma maters, and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs that will create a golden age of self-sufficiency and unlimited growth for Black America.