Black athletes have attracted money and attention to the predominantly white universities that showcase them. Meanwhile, black colleges are struggling. Alabama’s athletic department generated $174 million in the 2016–17 school year, whereas the HBCU that generated the most money from athletics that year, Prairie View A&M, brought in less than $18 million. Beyond sports, the average HBCU endowment is only one-eighth that of the average predominantly white school; taken together, all of the HBCU endowments combined make up less than a tenth of Harvard’s.
Why should this matter to anyone beyond the administrators and alumni of the HBCUs themselves? Because black colleges play an important role in the creation and propagation of a black professional class. Despite constituting only 3 percent of four-year colleges in the country, HBCUs have produced 80 percent of the black judges, 50 percent of the black lawyers, 50 percent of the black doctors, 40 percent of the black engineers, 40 percent of the black members of Congress, and 13 percent of the black CEOs in America today. (They have also produced this election cycle’s only black female candidate for the U.S. presidency: Kamala Harris is a 1986 graduate of Howard University.)
In a country where the racial wealth gap remains enormous—the median white household has nearly 10 times the wealth of the median black household, and the rate of white homeownership is about 70 percent higher than that of black homeownership—institutions that nurture a black middle class are crucial. And when these institutions are healthy, they bring economic development to the black neighborhoods that surround them.