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Historically Black colleges get a $120 million gift. They need it.

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A Morehouse College graduation ceremony.

A Morehouse College graduation ceremony. The HBCU is one of the recipients of a $120 million donation from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

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The scholarship funds at historically Black Spelman and Morehouse colleges — and the United Negro College Fund — are $120 million better off, thanks to donations from Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin.

In a statement, the couple said they hope the gift will help “reverse generations of inequality.” Historically Black colleges and universities have smaller endowments than most other private institutions of higher learning.

When Brian Bridges first heard about the $120 million donation, his initial reaction was “elation, joy, amazement,” he said. As head of research at the United Negro College Fund, he understands the money will help tens of thousands of students who apply for scholarships annually.

“The fact that this is today, the largest single investment in HBCUs is a bit saddening because these kinds of investments and size of investments are made to predominantly white institutions every year,” Bridges said.

HBCUs attract more lower-income students than other colleges and universities — 90% of them are eligible for financial aid. And COVID-19 has been hard on the schools, said Marybeth Gasman with the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

“For many of them, their infrastructure is not necessarily ready for being online,” Gasman said. “That takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of money.”

And reopening campuses will take even more money. Virginia State University President Makola Abdullah is looking at millions of dollars in social-distancing costs.

“The revenue reduction from social distancing in the residence halls and not having as many students on campus, and then if you couple that with the growing level of COVID-related infrastructure that you want to put in, extra cleaning, signs on the floor to mark distance,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah expects to see a 10% enrollment decline. But the recent Black Lives Matter protests may have a silver lining for HBCUs: A survey found that their enrollments increased after protests and the election in 2016.

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