HBCU leadership – the revolving door

Part one of a three part series


Running an institution of higher education is like running a multi-million dollar business. There are negotiations for property, talent, capital, innovation, partnerships, and oh – student recruitment, retention, graduation, and curriculum specialization. Both business and education have to focus on ethics, equity, brand, competition, financing, changes in the marketplace, the “customer experience”… The responsibilities and expectations can seem dizzying and overwhelming to those of us who don’t sit in such executive roles.

These responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities are magnified when an institution of higher education is an historically Black college or university. These presidents are often asked to do the impossible; to pull “a rabbit out of a hat;” and to resolve the results of historical inequities and underinvestment in the blink of an eye. “We expect you to hit the ground running,” is a common expectation as a president begins their tenure.

Yes, college presidents and university chancellors represent the top tier of educational leadership. They “should” be up to the task. But the task that most have prepared for has been changing at an accelerated pace, traditional funding streams are disappearing or gone, and the competition for top talent can be next to impossible when institutions are dealing with or facing budget cuts, enrollment drops, and noncompetitive compensation packages. The challenges are most extreme at private institutions. But the performance expectations only continue to increase.

HBCU leadership – the revolving doorThe following represent our observations related to the challenges facing executive leaders at HBCUs.  These were gained over recent decades working within and with HBCUs. We share these as a way to help contextualize the conversation, and to help current and potential presidents, and the board’s who hire, support and evaluate them.

  1. Lack of resources. This is the number one challenge facing HBCUs and no one person can change this – and the implications – overnight. This includes little or no endowment, encumbered endowment, or endowment “pay outs” that are already pledged to meet prior financial commitments. Today’s current lack of resources is also tied to historical lack of investment and/or disinvestment combined with lack of unrestricted annual funds and major debt. A president or chancellor who takes the reins of an institution with these challenges needs to require board and community engagement and investment to address these. They cannot do this on their own, especially if they are new to the community without a history of strong relationships with influencers.
  2. Changing leadership requirements. Today’s top leaders need c-suite business experience in addition to educational leadership. They need to know business modeling, finance, and fundraising. They also need to be politically informed, connected and astute. They need to navigate, negotiate, build, and sustain mutually beneficial relationships across campus, and across the city, region and state. They need to be attuned to the Congressional agenda and funding opportunities or threats, and they need lobbyists to advocate for the individual and collective HBCU agenda.

Part One – HBCU Leadership — The Revolving Door

Part Two – HBCU Leadership — Let’s Move Beyond the Blame Game

Part Three – HBCU Leadership — Hiring an HBCU President: Questions for President and Trustees


Don’t forget:


Copyright 2019 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

When you are ready to build a fund development program, grow your fundraising, or increase board engagement we are here to help. (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.

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2 comments on “HBCU leadership – the revolving door”

  1. Pingback: HBCU leadership – let's move beyond the blame game | Saad&Shaw

  2. Pingback: Hiring an HBCU president: questions for presidents and trustees | Saad&Shaw

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