Over the summer the White House cut their funding to HBCUs $85 million. While they argued in response that they’ve indirectly increased aid to HBCUs alumni and concerned citizens are up in arms.

Earlier today I had a discussion with a friend who detailed to me a meeting he attended with Obama’s HBCU point man–himself a graduate of Morehouse University. The point man argued that compared to whites at schools such as Princeton, HBCUs receive remarkably little from their alumni. The numbers appear to bear this out. Whereas Princeton’s endowment is $16.3 billion (to cite one example), Spelman’s endowment is only $291 million. What this means is that Princeton has far much more money to spend on faculty, on facilities, and on students than Spelman does.

Now there are two places to take the argument from this point.

One way to go is to say…ok. Because we’ve got less resources to spend and because our alumni for whatever reason can’t spend, we have to press the federal government for more resources. The point man wouldn’t communicate it like THIS necessarily because he is a representative for the Obama administration…but this would be the general message. “Press us more on this issue to make us give more resources.”

The other way to go is to say….ok. Because your alumni doesn’t spend as much on your institutions as alumni at other institutions we’re going to give you less, because we work on the assumption that your giving is a sign of value. If you don’t give anything, it means you don’t value it. If you don’t value it we don’t value it. Here the message is either “do more to raise more money” or at best “do more to raise more money, and we’ll raise what we can.”

The point man took the latter approach. And some reading this may think this makes a great deal of common sense.

But part of what I feel we should be doing is extending what our conception of “common sense” is here. If educating folks (whether we’re talking about Michigan or Spelman) is a public good, then we should not rely on donor funds but rather should extend federal funds, as both a practical issue and as a measure of our political priorities. Each extra Spelman grad (not to mention Alabama State, Stillman, Benedict, and the countless others) makes us more productive, extends our human capital, extends our capability to innovate and create.

But maybe it’s me.