United Negro College Fund Receives Historic $100M Unrestricted Gift

The organization will use the Lilly Endowment Inc. gift to increase endowment funds for all 37 member historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
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Published on January 18, 2024
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  • Each university will receive $10 million from a pooled endowment of $370 million that UNCF is building.
  • Each school will immediately receive $2.7 million from Lilly Endowment Inc.'s donation, which doubles some member colleges' endowment funds.
  • The median endowment for UNCF-member HBCUs is $15.9 million. That will grow to $25.9 million after UNCF's billion-dollar campaign finishes.

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) just received the largest unrestricted private gift in its history and will use it to grow the endowment funds at 37 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Lilly Endowment Inc. announced the $100 million unrestricted gift to UNCF during a press conference Jan. 11 at Clark Atlanta University. The gift supports UNCF's $1 billion campaign for student scholarships, HBCU endowment funding, capacity-building programs for member HBCUs, cash reserves, and endowed funds for UNCF.

Lilly Endowment's last gift in 2015 was a $50 million grant used to launch the Career Pathways Initiative. The initiative's goal is to help HBCUs and predominantly Black institutions prepare students for employment in a technology-driven global economy.

"We plan to establish endowments for our member HBCUs that will be pooled and managed at UNCF. They will become permanent assets of the institutions," said UNCF president and CEO Michael L. Lomax.

"Rising tides do lift all boats and UNCF is committed to making this a reality because 100 percent of this grant will be used to enhance the endowments at our 37 member colleges and universities. We believe this is the most prudent way to use Lilly Endowment's transformational support."

Each member HBCU will receive $10 million from UNCF to a pooled endowment of $370 million. Each institution will immediately receive $2.7 million from Lilly Endowment's donation, doubling some institutions' endowments.

The median endowment for UNCF-member HBCUs is $15.9 million. That will grow by 63% to $25.9 million after the capital campaign finishes. The median private college endowment is $214.6 million, according to the National Association of College University Business Officers.

According to UNCF, pooled endowments can increase investment power and generate higher returns. Pooled endowments can promote collaboration and networking, enhance fundraising, increase visibility, and improve financial stability.

"For nearly 80 years, Lilly Endowment has supported UNCF's efforts to strengthen its member institutions and thereby enhance the educational attainment of their students," N. Clay Robbins, Lilly Endowment's chairman and CEO, said in the UNCF press release.

"The UNCF programs we have helped fund in the past have been successful, and we are confident that the efforts to be supported by this bold campaign will have a great impact on UNCF's member institutions and their students' lives."

Lilly Endowment also just gave Purdue University a $100 million grant toward its business school and Purdue Computes, an initiative to boost research and employment in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, semiconductors, and other high-demand industries.

HBCUs are historically underfunded. In September, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent letters to 16 state governors telling them to develop a plan to fund their HBCUs adequately. Kentucky underfunded Kentucky State University by $172 million in the last 30 years, while Tennessee owes the most money to Tennessee State University (TSU) at $2.1 billion, according to the departments.

HBCUs are 1890 land-grant institutions entitled to the same funding as the states' predominantly white universities (PWIs). Yet, reports show that HBCUs have been underfunded since inception.

"This enormous figure of over $2.1 billion can't be overlooked," TSU President Glenda Glover previously said. "We have been on our own journey to recoup $544 million from the State that TSU should have received, as required by law, and were not aware of an additional underfunding review by the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture prior to the release of those letters."