Pictured above: Morgan State University President David K. Wilson and Donna Howard, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, captured the day the MacKenzie Scott gift was made public in December 2020; courtesy of Morgan State University
- In December 2020, Scott gave to 17 HBCUs, ranging from $4 million to $50 million
- Nearly every school that received money put some of the funds into an endowment
- For many of the HBCUs, the visibility from Scott’s gift led to other donors giving millions more over the past year
In mid-December 2020, a rash of news statements were released, all pointing at the same thing: MacKenzie Scott, the philanthropist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who in July 2020 had sent a shockwave through the philanthropic and education worlds by donating more than $1 billion to 116 organizations (including six HBCUs), had spent months secretly giving away another $4 billion to 384 organizations. This time, 17 HBCUs received money, ranging from $4 million to $50 million and totaling more than $400 million in donations.
“I didn't believe it,” Donna Howard, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Morgan State University, told The Plug about the $40 million Morgan State received from Scott’s 2020 donation, the school’s largest donation to date.
“I think once we realized that it was real it was just sheer joy,” Howard said.
Now, a little more than a year later, Morgan State practically doubled their endowment by putting 95 percent of Scott’s gift — $38 million — into the fund that ensures the financial sustainability of the school. Nearly every school that received money in December 2020 from Scott put some of the funds into an endowment.
“I think it was revolutionary,” Denise Smith, Senior Fellow of Higher Education at progressive think tank The Century Foundation, told The Plug about Scott’s giving.
“I think for so long HBCU leadership have had to deal with the issues of the now, that they never have been in a position where they have funding where they can think about the future of the institutions,” Smith added.
Smith, an alumna of South Carolina State University, Morehouse School of Medicine and a current PhD student at Howard University, added that throughout history, HBCUs didn’t receive the same amount of funding as their peer institutions. It wasn’t until 1986 that Congress established funding specifically for HBCUs, nearly 150 years after the first HBCU was founded.
This underfunding has led to a myriad of financial issues for HBCUs, particularly much smaller endowments relative to their peers. In fact, the value of all HBCU endowments in 2020 combined was just 11 percent of Harvard’s endowment in 2020.
Private philanthropy like Scott’s gifts has filled some of these gaps, but it can’t solely fix what is a systemic problem, Smith said.
“I think that there has to be a multi-prong approach,” she added. “It has to be an act of private donors, it has to be an act of federal policy, it has to be an act of alumni continuing to give, it has to be an act of positive partnerships that support institutions.”
The best way for donors to help ensure HBCUs can close the gaps is to give schools money, but let them determine how those funds are used as Scott did, Smith said.
This is how the 17 HBCUs have used the money over the past year:
Alcorn State University: Received $25 million
Scott’s gift was the largest in Alcorn’s 150-year history. “This gift is truly transformational and we are humbled by Ms. Scott’s generosity,” Felecia Nave, Alcorn’s President said in a statement at the time. “It will more than double the size of our endowment.”
The school did not respond to questions about how the $25 million has specifically been used over the past year.
Bowie State University: Received $25 million
For the Maryland-based HBCU, Scott’s gift was also the largest gift it has ever received.
“The initial contact from Ms. Scott’s representative elicited concerns of a hoax or phishing scam,” Brent Swinton, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Bowie State, told The Plug.
BSU put $23 million, more than 90 percent of the funding, into its endowment. At the end of fiscal year 2018, BSU’s endowment was $7.3 million. Its current market value is now $35 million, according to Swinton. The remaining $2 million is being used to leverage and secure funding from additional sources.
“The Scott gift brought BSU to the attention of larger-scale donors, and it has attracted funding from a broader range of constituents, including national and international donors,” Swinton said.
Claflin University: Received $20 million
When Scott’s gift was first announced, Claflin called it “game-changing” and the largest in the school’s history.
The school’s initial plans for the $20 million were to bolster Claflin’s teaching and learning, expand access to scholarships, increase the endowment and support workforce and economic development throughout their community of Orangeburg, South Carolina, according to a statement released at the time. The school did not respond to questions about how the $20 million has specifically been used over the past year.
Clark Atlanta University: Received $15 million
Scott’s gift to the Atlanta-based HBCU marked the single largest private gift in the school’s history.
“This transformational gift will enable the University to strengthen our academic programs; support academic innovation initiatives; enhance our campus infrastructure; provide scholarship support to students; and build on our endowment,” George French, President of CAU, said in a statement at the time.
The school did not respond to questions about how the $15 million has specifically been used over the past year.
Delaware State University: Received $20 million
Scott’s gift to Delaware State was the school’s largest charitable donation from a single entity.
“In the simplest terms, we have directly invested the $20 million to leverage an additional $80 million in partnerships and appropriations,” Tony Allen, President of Delaware State, wrote in an October 2021 report to Scott’s team.
The school made three major strategic investments with the money. First, $12 million went into its endowment and strategic initiatives reserve. Delaware State then used $5 million to support the acquisition of its neighbor, Wesley College. Lastly, $3 million went to support the school’s Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, an initiative born out of the racial unrest of 2020.
From those investments, Allen said the school attracted an additional $80 million:
- $1 million from the Longwood Foundation and $1.3 million from the State of Delaware augmented the Wesley College acquisition ($32 million in real estate assets).
- Having a liquid Strategic Reserve permitted the University to secure the donation of a $4.7 million, 35,000 square-foot facility from Capital One on the Riverfront business district in Wilmington, DE.
- Resources devoted to the Global Institute supported negotiation of the first-ever MOU between the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and an HBCU (DSU), and its ongoing initiative to become the first HBCU to achieve Federal Prime Contractor status.
- Resources committed to the Global Institute obtained $1 million gifts/partnerships from the Charles Schwab Foundation and Barclays Bank to improve financial literacy for young people of color.
- Resources invested in the Human Genomic/COVID-19 Laboratory aided in landing a $5 million New Castle County grant to underwrite that facility's construction, opening Delaware's only COVID-19 testing laboratory in January 2021.
- Resources reserved for use by Academic Affairs for the Early Childhood Education Initiative became the matching funds necessary for a $30+ million grant from the Delaware Department of Education.
- The MacKenzie Scott gift also played a major role in legislative confidence to increase the INSPIRE Scholarship allocation by $2.7 million
“HBCUs are receiving more national attention — both in terms of publicity and funding — than ever before in American history,” Allen wrote. “Yet for HBCUs to transform into the powerhouses of educational equity, impactful research, and enhanced social mobility that they could be, the sector must change its narrative from being struggling victims of funding inequities to being the best educational investment, dollar for dollar, that America can currently make.”
Dillard University: Received $5 million
For the New Orleans-based HBCU, Scott’s donation was the largest gift it had ever received.
“This gift will enable us to carry out strategic initiatives that will be beneficial not only during the pandemic, but will also position Dillard to reach greater heights well into the future” Marc Barnes, vice president for Institutional Advancement at Dillard, said in a statement at the time.
The school did not respond to questions about how the $5 million has specifically been used over the past year.
Elizabeth City State University: Received $15 million
Scott’s gift to the North Carolina-based HBCU was the largest gift from a single donor in the university’s nearly 130-year history.
“This gift has been transformative for the university – it helps improve our financial footing for long-term stability, invest in innovative priorities, and provide additional educational opportunities for our students and community,” Karrie Dixon, Chancellor of ECSU, told The Plug.
The school invested $13.5 million, 90 percent of the funding, in an investment that contributes to their overall endowment pool. The investments have already yielded a $2 million return which has gone towards ECSU’s $6 million scholarship goal.
In the coming year, ECSU plans to invest the remaining $1.5 million in an Unmanned Aircraft Systems facility which they hope will serve as a regional hub to train students in unmanned aviation and create new career pathways for them.
ECSU said that as a result of Scott’s gift, it received invaluable national exposure.
“Ms. Scott’s vetting of ECSU validated our university as a partner worthy of significant investment,” a spokesperson said. “The donation also heightened our ability to attract corporate partners.”
Some of these partners include United Airlines, the Renaissance Foundation, and the Apple-funded Propel Center.
Lincoln University: Received $20 million
For the Pennsylvania-based HBCU, Scott’s gift was the largest single donation the school had ever received.
“We were elated, surprised, and grateful to be included among the HBCUs targeted by Ms. Scott to receive a multi-million dollar contribution,” a Lincoln spokesperson told The Plug.
The school invested all $20 million into an endowment in the Lincoln University Foundation, separate from the school’s main endowment.
While the school has received donations from various new donors over the past year, they can not say for certain whether Scott’s donation influenced their decision.
Morgan State University: Received $40 million
For the Baltimore-based HBCU, Scott’s gift was the school’s largest single donation.
The largest portion of Scott’s gift, $38 million, went to the school’s endowment. Of that, Morgan State used $3 million to create the first endowed professorships in its 155-year history, Donna Howard said. The school established three professors in brain science, predictive analysis, and cybersecurity engineering and psychometrics, which Morgan State hopes will help it reach the upper echelon of research universities in the U.S.
The remaining $2 million was placed into a current use fund to support faculty and student initiatives, which was invested across 10 areas, according to a spokesperson:
- Center for Urban Health Equity ($500,000)
- National Center for the Elimination of Educational Disparities ($100,000)
- Center for Research in Education and Digital Engineering ($100,000)
- Institute for Racial Justice and Social Inequities ($100,000)
- Social Justice Leadership Training Academy ($100,000)
- Center for Innovations in Smart Tiny Home Technology ($100,000)
- Center for Student Research and Innovation ($100,000)
- Center for Innovation and Partnership ($60,000)
- Zora Neale Hurston Creative Writing and Expression Award ($60,000)
- Scholarships ($200,000)
After Scott’s gift was made public, an alumnus of the school that had previously established an endowed scholarship fund increased his gift to the school by another $15 million, bringing his total donation to $20 million. The Morgan State spokesperson said it was the largest gift received from an HBCU alumnus.
Other contributors and donors to Morgan State within the last 18 months have included:
- An anonymous donor gifted Morgan State $2.75 million
- A season of significant giving capped off with the largest donation in the athletic department’s history ($2.5 million from philanthropist Mike Novogratz) ushering the return of wrestling after a 24-year hiatus, officially making Morgan the only HBCU to offer the sport at the D1 level.
- Google ($5 million)
- Law Firm Kirkland & Ellis donated $3 million to Morgan’s Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights
- Apple ($1.25 million)
- Baltimore Ravens ($1 million)
- Bank of America ($1 million)
- Comcast/NBCUniversal ($500,000)
- BG&E ($200,000) | Whiting-Turner Construction ($300,000)
- Morgan was included in the recent HBCU Settlement Bill, which awarded Maryland’s four HBCUs $577 million over 10 years, $57 million per year.
Norfolk State University: Received $40 million
Scott’s donation to the Virginia-based HBCU was the school’s largest-ever single-donor gift.
NSU planned to use the gift towards their five strategic priorities, according to a statement at the time: Student success; External engagement and partnerships; Fundraising and endowment growth; Shared governance and professional development; and Institutional Alignment, Operational Excellence, and Strategic Planning.
The school did not respond to questions about how the $40 million has specifically been used over the past year.
North Carolina A&T State University: Received $45 million
The Greensboro-based HBCU planned to invest Scott’s gift across four areas, according to a statement at the time:
- Student success, which includes programs that would promote the enrollment, retention and timely graduation of students, as well as direct support for students in financial need.
- Preparation for the workplace.
- Civic responsibility and engagement, which would devote funds to expanding initiatives that encourage students to give back to their communities, engage in the broader world and assume a mantle of leadership as graduates.
- Academic programs.
The school did not respond to questions about how the $45 million has specifically been used over the past year.
Prairie View A&M University: Received $50 million
“I was stunned and, for a time, speechless,” Ruth Simmons, President of PVAMU, said in a statement when the gift was announced. “At first I thought I had surely misheard the amount, and I asked them to repeat it; they clarified that it would be ‘$50 (five zero) million.’”
The Texas-based HBCU received $50 million, the largest gift of any of the 22 HBCUs Scott directly supported. Of that, $33 million went into a variety of endowment accounts, a PVAMU spokesperson told The Plug.
“With this substantial addition of funds, the University’s $95 million endowment increased nearly 40 percent to almost $130 million, making it one of the largest endowments at a Historically Black College or University,” the spokesperson said.
Through funds allocated from the endowment, PVAMU was able to launch the Toni Morrison Writer-in-Residence Program with an inaugural event with famed writer, poet and close friend and colleague of Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni. The school is also using some of the funds to hire 23 new tenure-track faculty.
The remaining $17 million was used in two areas:
- $10 million went to create the Panther Student Success Grant Program, an effort to assist primarily juniors and seniors with unpaid balances created by the financial challenges posed by Covid-19.
- $7 million went to the construction of a new state-of-the-art engineering building
The past year has also been a historic funding year for the school after the visibility that came from Scott’s gift. PVAMU raised more than $70 million, the spokesperson said.
Tougaloo College: Received $6 million
"We are deeply grateful to philanthropist MacKenzie Scott for her magnanimous generosity as it enabled us to advance major initiatives," Carmen Walters, President of Tougaloo, told The Plug.
Scott’s $6 million was the largest from a named donor in the Mississippi-based college’s 150-year history. Over the past year, the school used $2.5 million for merit and need-based scholarships, put $1.15 million toward significant upgrades to five campus facilities and the remaining $2.35 million went to establishing a fund that will support scholarships, technology and infrastructure improvements.
As a result of Scott’s gift, the College garnered numerous unexpected gifts from private donors, according to a Tougaloo spokesperson:
- Two anonymous donors gave gifts totaling $2.75 million for scholarships.
- TikTok gave $1 million for scholarships to prepare students for public health careers.
- Gilead Sciences gave $1 million for social justice programming and student support.
University of Maryland Eastern Shore: Received $20 million
For UMES, Scott’s gift was the largest donation it had ever received. All $20 million went into endowment accounts and the spendable income from these accounts will go towards student scholarships, faculty development and support for the University's sponsored research programs, according to a UMES spokesperson.
The school said since Scott’s gift, they have received a few large anonymous donations, but can’t verify whether or not they were inspired by the gift.
Virginia State University: Received $30 million
For VSU, Scott’s gift was the largest donation to date.
“The gift will provide broader opportunities focusing on a holistic approach to academic excellence and student success and engagement while emphasizing leadership and professional development, career planning, and experiential learning,” the school said in a statement at the time.
A spokesperson declined to comment on how specifically the money has been spent over the past year, saying VSU hasn’t shared the information outside of Scott’s team.
Voorhees College: Received $4 million
For the South Carolina-based HBCU, Scott’s gift was the largest single donation in its history.
“Her gift will be used in a variety of ways to include scholarship dollars for students, financial support to non-traditional and international students, healthcare for employees, facility upgrades and deferred maintenance, and the establishment of endowed chairs,” W. Franklin Evans, President of Voorhees, said in a statement at the time.
Winston-Salem State University: Received $30 million
For WSSU, Scott’s gift, like nearly every school, was its largest donation ever.
At the time it was announced, the school said her donation would be “strategically invested to meet the University’s highest priorities.”
The school did not respond to questions about how the $30 million has specifically been used over the past year.