Magazine article Ebony

The Richest Black College: Spelman Scores Big Financial, Academic and "Sisterhood" Gains. (Special Section on Historically Black Colleges and Universities)

Magazine article Ebony

The Richest Black College: Spelman Scores Big Financial, Academic and "Sisterhood" Gains. (Special Section on Historically Black Colleges and Universities)

Article excerpt

SISTERHOOD. That's the popular sentiment of those who pass through the gates of Spelman College. Whether they are students, faculty, staff, trustees or alumnae, the common thread weaving these lives together is a bond as old as time--it is a family of Sisters. And they are fiery in their commitment to continuing the tradition of excellence that has marked the school since its beginning.

"Many of us involved with Spelman are passionate about that college," says Dr. June Gary Hopps, chair of the board of trustees and a Spelman alumna. "It is a commitment, a lifelong journey."

Set on 34 acres dotted with historic and thoroughly modern buildings just west of downtown Atlanta, Spelman College rises as an academic and cultural oasis amidst an urban landscape. As the oldest historically Black college for women in the United States, the college has experienced phenomenal growth since missionaries Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles taught those first classes to 11 students in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in 1881.

With more than 2,000 enrolled students, a new president, two impressive new buildings and plans in place for more renovation of some of the most historic buildings on campus, Spelman is poised for even more expansion in this first decade of the 21st century.

The college's endowment is the richest of all Black colleges, and has grown roughly 86 percent since 1995, from about $123.4 million to $229 million last year. That's second only to Howard University, which has an endowment of $324 million, but is a university and receives federal aid. Because of the relatively small student body, Spelman's endowment is worth approximately $114,500 per student, which by far outdistances all other Black institutions.

The next richest Black colleges after Spelman are Hampton University and Morehouse College, which had endowments of $175 million and $101 million, respectively, according to the latest report of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This is a spectacular achievement in view of the fact that many Black colleges are facing life-threatening economic problems, including dwindling endowments. How did Spelman do it? Spelman officials and other analysts point first to spectacular gifts, including the $20 million gift from Bill and Camille Hanks Cosby, and a number of large and less-publicized gifts from corporate sources. The college has also been increasingly successful, according to senior officials, in persuading alumnae to make relatively large contributions. No less important in all of this, administrators say, is wise management by college financial officers.

Robert (Danny) Flanigan Jr., vice president of business and financial affairs and treasurer at Spelman, says the college succeeded because of its diversified investment portfolio and calculated risks. Spelman has a reputation for balanced budgets as a result of a "pay-as-you-go" philosophy of financial management. The college has also ridden the wave of success in the stock market in recent years. While last year's tech-driven stock market decline hit many institutions in the negative column, Spelman was still able to improve by 4 percent.

"Are we satisfied? Absolutely not," says Flanigan.

That's the prevailing opinion for many college officials. They do not plan to rest on their laurels. There's definitely more work to do, says Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, recently named Spelman's ninth president.

"Spelman College is operating from a position of strength--in that it has a history of balanced budgets," says Dr. Tatum, who moved into Reynolds Cottage, the president's official residence, in July. "I think the treasurer, the past president and the board of trustees have done an excellent job in stewarding the college's resources. It's not a college in crisis, by any means. But it's very clear that there are ambitions that Spelman College has and that I have for Spelman that will require more resources. …

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