This newsletter is about the role of higher ed in society. Each week, we highlight how college is (or is not) working for citizens and communities. It goes out most Friday mornings — If someone forwarded this to you, you can sign up for your own copy here.
Yet Another Giant Wealth Gap
Attention focused in recent days on the role of historically Black colleges and universities as President Biden signed an executive order on “advancing educational equity, excellence, and economic opportunity” through them and the White House held a week-long conference on the subject.
The history of these colleges is also at the center of a new book from our friend and former colleague Adam Harris, now a writer at The Atlantic. In The State Must Provide, Adam makes the case inequality was baked into the nation’s higher education system from the beginning.
“The Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 created a class of land-grant institutions that Black students could not attend. Even today, places with the most resources, including flagships, have very small Black enrollments. Just 5 percent of the enrollment at Auburn University is Black, despite the fact that roughly 30 percent of high-school graduates in Alabama are Black. States have grown complacent about these issues because they know there won’t be any repercussions for ignoring them.”
So who should pay? In part, he argues, other colleges. Here’s Adam in a recent excerpt in The Chronicle titled “What White Colleges Owe Black Colleges”:
“Private money alone won’t save Black colleges, but, perhaps, money from predominantly white institutions can — and it might be those colleges’ responsibility to provide that aid. … Perhaps the institutions that grew and flourished while blocking Black students from attending (while Black colleges languished) have some responsibility to share their wealth with institutions that have historically served — and continue to serve — those students.”
The wealth gap between historically Black colleges and predominantly white ones is staggering. The top 10 richest universities have endowments totaling $200 billion. The 10 richest HBCUs? Just $2 billion.
In fact, the combined endowments for every single HBCU (more than 100 institutions) is just $3.9 billion. Maybe at first glance that sounds like a big number. In this context, it’s most definitely not.
Here are a few other things valued at more than all HBCU endowments combined:
- The Golden State Warriors ($4.7 billion)
- Combined box office revenue for Avengers End Game and Infinity War ($4.7 billion)
- Peter Thiel’s Roth IRA account ($5 billion)
- Facebook … in 2008 ($4 billion then, now about $1 trillion)
Our New Chief Revenue Officer
We’re thrilled to welcome Maria Archangelo as our first chief revenue officer. Maria’s a long-time leader of high-performing revenue, fundraising, sales, and membership teams for news organizations.
She comes to us from Chalkbeat — which, like Open Campus, focuses on in-depth reporting in local markets, building bureaus to cover education in cities across the country. It’s one of the fastest-growing nonprofit news organizations in the country. (Read more about Maria.)
Maria was one of the first people we met when we started Open Campus two years ago. She was smart, enthusiastic, and generous in sharing her expertise. She, and Chalkbeat, became one of our first partners.
We talked this week about how she got into journalism, why the education beat matters, and what’s at stake in the work that we do.
What drew you to journalism?
I have always been curious and asked a lot of questions. I grew up in a house where my father — a bus driver in Philadelphia — religiously read two newspapers a day. Talking about the news was common in my house and, as I grew to love writing, it seemed to be a good choice for a career.
Why have you spent so much of your recent career on education? Why does better coverage of it matter?
As a first-generation college student, education changed my life. My parents both worked very hard as blue-collar workers and made a good life, but I wanted to learn about different ideas, travel to new places, and have more options for the future. My college education gave me those opportunities, along with a responsibility to do something that I felt was meaningful.
I spent the beginning of my career as a police and court reporter. There is no better place to witness the power of education than in a courthouse. I covered the cases of people who felt trapped by their circumstances and who made bad choices because they could see no other choices to make. I saw people treated differently because of their socioeconomic status. It was clear to me that, in many cases, a good education could make the difference between having options and having none.
I believe we have an obligation as a society to deliver a high-quality education to all students. Education is often the largest expenditure a local government makes. If we combine what’s at stake for students with the outlay of taxpayer dollars, what beat could be more important?
What makes you passionate about nonprofit news? About local news?
Most of my journalism career has been spent in the era of layoffs, buyouts, hedge fund owners, and downsizing. When I was an editor at a chain news organization, my top personal goal for the year as stated by the company was to “maximize shareholder wealth.” It wasn’t “inform and engage the community with news that will have the most impact,” or something else journalism-related. That was painful to me.
I decided that if I wanted to be part of an organization that produced the kind of journalism that I thought was important — that actually might improve or transform the community I worked in — I needed to get control of the finances and budget decisions.
I studied the publishers who had made the leap from the editorial to the business side of journalism and eventually became a local media publisher in Vermont in 2006. I have been privileged to be able to raise money for journalism (both for-profit and nonprofit) since that time. Where I once found joy in reporting or editing a breaking news story, I now get really excited when I find the money to support the critical work of journalists.
The nonprofit news world has exploded since I joined in 2016. Thanks to organizations such as the Institute for Nonprofit News, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and the American Journalism Project, more people are realizing that journalism — like education — is a public good that needs broad and diverse support. That makes this a really exciting time to be in news and building revenue for news.
What’s at stake in whether we get it right?
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that democracy is in danger if we lose local news. It is a thought that keeps me up at night. I am grateful, however, to be able to actively work to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Elsewhere on Open Campus
In Colorado: As students return, Colorado State works to help them adjust to campus life during COVID. To make the transition easier, college leaders extended the deadline for students to withdraw from any class without penalty. They also called students who didn’t register for classes to see how they could get them back on track.
In latitude(s): ‘Everything was in Afghanistan.’ For nearly two weeks after Kabul fell under Taliban control, Maryam Khademi checked her phone constantly. She was waiting for news that she could leave. It took three attempts, but she and 147 classmates and recent graduates finally made it to the airport.
In The Job: Charting better maps to degrees. Community-college students on average rack up 82 credits when earning an associate degree—22 more than they should need. A guided pathways approach seeks to create a structured path.
In Work Shift: Is the ‘bootcamp’ market really in the millions? A new national survey finds that 4 percent of American adults say they are enrolled in a tech bootcamp. Experts on the field say that’s absurdly high—and a sign of widespread public confusion about tech training options and the jobs they open up.
Keep in Touch
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