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Local HBCU Leaders Not Surprised by Study’s Findings

From NNPA Newswire and New Orleans Tribune Staff Reports

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) generate $14.8 billion in economic impact annually, according to new report commissioned by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and conducted by University of Georgia Selig Center for Economic Growth.

The study finds that if the economic impact of all of the HBCUs in the nation were combined, they would rank in the top 200 on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations. Titled, “HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” the report notes that public HBCUs account for $9.6 billion of that total economic impact, while private HBCUs account for $5.2 billion. The figures include direct spending by historically Black colleges and universities on faculty, staff, academic programs and operations, as well as spending by HBCU students and the spin-off effects of that spending. It is based on data collected in 2014 and provides state and individual institution profiles.

Louisiana’s six HBCUs—four public and two private institutions—generate $923 million in total economic impact and 8,454 jobs for their local and regional economies, including 2,578 on-campus jobs and 4,876 off-campus jobs, the report details.

“Every dollar in initial spending by Louisiana HBCUs generates $1.39 in initial and subsequent spending,” according to the report’s authors. “This multiplier effect means, on average, each dollars spent by the state’s HBCUs and their students generates an additional 39 cents for their local and regional economies. For each job created on campus, another 1.4 public- and private-sector jobs are created off campus because Louisiana HBCU-related spending. Looked at in a different way, each $1 million initially spent by Louisiana HBCUs and their students creates 13 jobs.”

A Local Look

The state’s six HBCU’s include Grambling State University in Grambling, La. (about 37 miles west of Monroe); Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Southern University in Shreveport, and three historically Black universities all located in New Orleans—Southern University at New Orleans, Dillard University and Xavier University of Louisiana.

With three HBCUs, New Orleans is rivaled only by Atlanta, Ga., and Nashville, Tenn., with respect to cities with the largest number of HBCUs. And news of the report comes as no surprise to HBCU leaders in the city. Still, Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University says that it is “great” to have hard data to support the case for investment in HBCUs.

“All of higher education provides this kind of return for communities. It is probably taken for granted more in metro areas like New Orleans than in small towns and cities because if one of those schools closes everyone knows how bad it is,” he says. “So it is great to have some data to support the institutions and to make the case for greater investment.”

Dillard University generates $83 million in total economic impact on the New Orleans local and regional economies, according to the UNCF report. Additionally, DU generates 778 jobs, including 338 on-campus jobs and another 440 jobs in public and private sectors.

And while it’s nice to have an independent study with hard data that points to the powerful impact of HBCUs, Kimbrough, who became the seventh president of Dillard University in July 2012, says he is not certain that this report is a “game changer”, especially in the current political landscape.

“If we just look at how the state of Louisiana has defunded public schools even though LSU can provide all kinds of data like this,” he says. “We’re in a fact-free era in this nation, so having data to show the economic impact of any school means little for an administration that finds alternative facts to support whatever position they prefer.”

According to the UNCF study, Xavier University of Louisiana generates $200 million in total economic impact; and every dollar spent by Xavier and its students generates $1.57 in initial and subsequent spending for the local and regional economies. Xavier also generates 1,715 jobs, including 699 on-campus jobs, and 1,016 others.

SUNO’s Interim Chancellor Dr. Lisa Mims-Devezin echoes sentiments about not being shocked by the results of the study.

In 2009, SUNO commissioned its own study on the school’s economic impact, and found that for 2008-2009, the total impact of SUNO’s spending more than $111. 4 million, while the university’s budget was only $16.3 million, concluding that taxpayers get a return of almost $7 for every $1 the state allocates to SUNO.

According to UNCF study, SUNO generates $105 million in total economic impact; and every dollar spent by SUNO and its students generates $1.48 in initial and subsequent spending throughout the city and region. Moreover, SUNO generates 895 jobs—333 of which are on campus in addition to another 562 jobs in the private and public sector.

And while it may not always seem evident, there is no other region in the state more influenced by the economic impact of HBCUs than the New Orleans metro area. Together, DU, SUNO and XULA have an economic impact of $388 million on the city and region. They create 1,370 jobs on their campuses and spur the creation of another 2,018 private and public sector jobs. They account for a little more than 42 percent of the economic impact created by all HBCUs in Louisiana and just over 40 percent of the jobs generated by HBCUs in the state.

For Mims-Devezin, the UNCF report only bolsters what she and others have long understood about the important and the powerful impact of HBCUs.

“This report gives one a sense of pride in what the Louisiana HBCUs, which are perennially under-resourced, have been able to accomplish with their limited resources,” said Mims-Devezin. “The report findings are not surprising. It is, however, refreshing to have an outside validation of what has been an open secret since the inception of HBCUs. The report supports the basic fact that students choose to attend the HBCUs because of their multiple value propositions. It provides irrefutable evidence of the growing and important role of the Louisiana HBCUs in the post-secondary education and economic development landscape.”

The report’s findings also leave Mims-Devezin, who became SUNO’s interim chancellor in July 2016 after the retirement of Dr. Victor Ukpolo, troubled that HBCUs so often find themselves fighting for their existence. To be sure, it seems that every few years, the Louisiana legislature considers a bill that would spell the end of SUNO through either closure or merger.

“At a time, when the necessity of HBCUs is being questioned, this report reminds us that the HBCUs have been able to thrive and achieve not in the absence of competing institutions, but despite the presence of better resourced institutions,” she said. “This report, however, begs the question: Why are more public and private sector resources not being invested in these HBCUs that have not only consistently given a good rate of return to their students and the community but that have been a cornerstone in the social and economic transformation of the region?”

Making Communities Stronger and Futures Brighter

For their part, NOLA’s three HBCUs remain focused on providing top-notch learning experiences for their students while also working to address the challenges and needs of the communities they serve. And with issues that range from economic inequity and pay disparity pervasive throughout New Orleans and the rest of the nation and disproportionately impacting people of color, the need for institutions to provide opportunities for educational advancement and economic progress especially to those who have been historically locked out of them is an urgent role HBCUs have assumed since the very first one—Cheney University— was founded 180 years ago.

That is why they exist.

“SUNO proudly embraces its location and its attendant mission,” Mims-Devezin says. “SUNO has been a leader in New Orleans economic development from inception. Its contributions have ranged from workforce development to new business incubation. SUNO has contributed its fair share in the creation of a vibrant New Orleans middle class through the education of professionals in the sciences, information technology, law enforcement, education, business, and accounting. SUNO has worked to improve the quality of life for Louisiana residents through its museum studies program, licensed social workers, and addictive substance counselors.

Mims-Devezin also points to SUNO’s efforts at investing in opportunities to grow entrepreneurship and small business

“Through its Small Business Development & Management Institute (SBDMI), for example, SUNO has been incubating seven local businesses in its 5,000 square foot on-campus business incubator since 2016. The SBDMI also has been providing on-site and virtual support, including financing, training, customer acquisition, and tax services, to numerous budding entrepreneurs and micro enterprises from the region since 2006.”

Under Kimbrough, Dillard University’s offerings in physics and film have been designated as “signature programs”. Attention to the physics program speaks directly to the need to increase the number of Blacks entering STEM fields, and was a no-brainer for Dillard, as the university already ranked second in the country in the number of Blacks graduating with degrees in physics. And the focus on the film program to prepare students for opportunities in that arena made sense as a growing film industry continues to make an impact on the local region.

Meanwhile, Xavier University maintains its long-held national distinction as the number one producer of African-American undergraduates that complete medical school; and the College of Pharmacy is among the nation’s top three producers of African-American doctor of pharmacy degree recipients.

According to the UNCF study, Louisiana HBCU graduates in 2014 could expect to earn $9.4 billion over their lifetimes. That is 53 percent more than they would earn without college degrees. In other words, a Louisiana HBCU graduate working full-time could expect to earn an average of $910,000 in additional income over their lifetime.

And as local HBCUs do their part, Kimbrough says the potential in the “return to the economy per student” is one reason local and state government ought to invest more in HBCUs.

“If the universities had additional resources to enroll students, who bring federal financial aid, that money can be invested in the communities,” he said.

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