Record HBCU Donation Made to Spelman College

Posted by on Feb 15, 2024 in Stuff You Should Know, Top Stories

A $100 million donation was made to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 18, 2024. It is the largest financial donation given to a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).  

The bulk of the record donation, $75 million, is to be used for scholarship endowments. The remaining $25 million will fund programs for public policy and democracy, student housing improvements, and other needs. A scholarship endowment fund invests money and uses the proceeds from the investments to provide scholarships to future students.  

African American female student reading book sitting on floor at library
Spelman College received a very generous donation.

The History of Spelman College 

Spelman College is an all-female private liberal arts college. It is one of two all-female HBCUs. The other is Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Notable Spelman alumnae include Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Stacey Abrams, political leader and activist.  

The roots of Spelman College go back to 1881 with the establishment of the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary. While the school started with just eleven students, the current enrollment of Spelman College is about 2,400 students. 

In 1884, the school changed its name to Spelman Seminary to honor another philanthropist, abolitionist and educator, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. She was the wife of the powerful oil industrialist John D. Rockefeller. 

Donors’ Record of Generosity  

Businesswoman Ronda Stryker, a member of Spelman’s board of trustees, made the donation with her husband William Johnston. Stryker is a director and the largest shareholder of Stryker Corporation, a medical technology manufacturer. The couple are generous philanthropists, people who make large donations to institutions that benefit the public good. 

They donated $30 million to Spelman in 2018. In 2011 they donated $100 million for the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine at Western Michigan University. 

In general, the endowments of HBCUs lag behind those of other colleges. In recent years, however, large donations have been made to HBCU endowments by the Lilly Endowment Inc., MacKenzie Scott (the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos), and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Educational Heritage of HBCUs 

HBCUs have a proud educational heritage dating to 1837 when Cheney University of Pennsylvania opened (then called the African Institute). Many HBCUs were formed in the post-Civil War era. Most of these schools were in the South. They prepared African American students for a variety of careers, including teaching, nursing, and science.  

The number of HBCUs continued to expand into the 1960s, when the Higher Education Act of 1965 officially defined HBCUs as institutions established before 1964 with the mission of educating African American students. There are currently about a hundred HBCUs in the United States. 

Some of the other well known HBCUs include Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida; Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia; and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.  

Dig Deeper Why do you think most of the HBCUs, which were established between 1837 and 1964, were in the South?