Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin have donated $120 million to fund education for those attending historically Black colleges. The philanthropic duo awarded Spelman College, Morehouse College and the United Negro College Fund $40 million dollars each to support hundreds of students in their educational endeavors over the next 10 years.
The multimillion-dollar gift is especially notable for its size: It’s reportedly the largest individual gift in support of student scholarships at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Philanthropic gifts of this magnitude have the potential to narrow the long-running endowment gap that exists between white and Black colleges and universities.
“What happens is that white capital tends to flow to predominantly white institutions,” Hastings said in a CBS News interview with anchor Gayle King. “And it’s just what you know and are comfortable with and have grown up with,” he added.
“Both of us had the privilege of a great education, and we want to help more students — in particular students of color — get the same start in life,” he and Quillin said in a news release. “HBCUs have a tremendous record, yet are disadvantaged when it comes to giving. We hope this additional $120 million donation will help more black students follow their dreams and also encourage more people to support these institutions — helping to reverse generations of inequity in our country.”
This economic trend has had a striking impact on the disparity in giving when it comes to HBCUs and other institutions. Howard University, the wealthiest of all HBCUs, possesses an endowment of $538 million. Harvard University, the richest Predominately White Institution (PWI), boasts an endowment of $35.7 billion. In other words, the endowment of the wealthiest Black university is just 2 percent of that of the richest PWI, according to Philanthropy News Digest.
Morehouse College president Dr. David A. Thomas spoke to Atlanta Black Star about the donation, and about the larger-scale implications of wealth inequality for higher education. “If we compare ourselves to any liberal arts institution that has had as much impact on the country as Morehouse has, our endowment should be 10 times what it is today,” said Thomas.
“The Covid virus, and the virus of racism have each laid bare some of the structural and social inequalities in our country,” said Dr. Thomas. “They [Hastings and Quillin] asked the question what could they do to ignite long-term change and get others to see the value in investing in institutions that are already providing part of the solution needed to address these issues.”
While the donation was unexpected, Thomas credited the billionaire couple’s burgeoning financial support of Morehouse College as having grown from the strong relationship Morehouse, Hastings and Quillin formed over the past two years.
“It was a surprise that they made such a large commitment, but it was in the works from the vantage point that we have been creating a relationship with Patty Quillin and Reed Hastings for about a year-and-a-half,” said Thomas.
After a visit in Spring 2019, the couple was so impressed with the work Morehouse was doing that they made a $1 million donation. In February 2020, after witnessing fruit from their initial gift, they donated another $1 million.
The most recent $40 million financial gift will allow for the establishment of the Michael L. Lomax Scholarship at Morehouse, which will enable 20 students in each class for the next 10 years to graduate debt-free. Lomax is a Morehouse alumni and president and CEO of UNCF.
Spelman College plans to use its $40 million gift to fund a scholarship named for Spelman alumna Dovey Johnson Roundtree. Roundtree, who passed away in 2018, was a civil rights and criminal defense attorney whose role in the 1955 bus desegregation case helped put an end to the separate but equal doctrine. Each year, the gift will cover tuition, and room and board costs for 20 talented entering freshman students.
“At the end of 10 years we will have educated 200 students who will graduate debt free,” said Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of Spelman College. “It’s a liberating gift, that will allow our students to work toward change in their respective communities and careers without financial strain.”
Student scholarships will be a focus also of the funds provided to UNCF, which — working with its 37-member colleges and universities — supports education and development through scholarships and programs.
Adding that HBCUs “need the level of support other institutions have gotten for years,” Thomas said he hopes this gift will draw individuals, corporations and foundations to support other Black colleges in the future.