On a sunny day last February, 42 black teen-agers from Boston stepped from a bus in Atlanta. They stood on the campus of Atlanta University, the largest consortium of black educational institutions in the United States --with four undergraduate colleges (Morris Brown, Clark, Morehouse, and Spelman) and an interdenominational theological seminary.
The Bostonians stared at the scene around them, especially the college students strolling by. "So this," sighed one of the visitors, "is the Mecca of black education."
But as the young people pondered a future for themselves in Atlanta or perhaps at another of the black schools included on their bus tour, few of them realized that most of the nation's private black colleges are not as well off as the "Mecca" that lay before them.
They soon learned about "have not" schools when they visited such schools as Paine College in Augusta, Ga., and Allen University in Columbia, S. C.
The 67 private black colleges, which enroll fewer than 25 percent of the 212, 000 students attending "historically black" campuses, are caught in the bind of dwindling financial returns and a growing need to update their academic offerings to remain relevant to students.
Administrators speak of the need for efficient management as well as increased revenue through endowments, corporate giving, local business and industry support, and community and alumni donations.
Even the successful United Negro College Fund (UNCF) -- which solicits money for 41 accredited black private colleges -- has veered from its usually low-keyed fund-raising methods to a more aggressive approach, using television personalities to help ask for funds.
One of these is singer Lou Rawls, who appears in commercials for a nationally known brewery. His employer picked up a $215,000 tab last year to produce a three-hour telethon, "Parade of Stars," shown in 40 cities.
A new telethon has been taped in Las Vegas which features entertainers Ed McMahon, Natalie Cole, Norm Crosby, Muhammad Ali, Bill Cosby, and others, who sing, talk, joke, and plead for donations. Targeted for 60 cities in 1981, the new telethon, it is hoped, will generate $5 million for the cause.
Use of the telethon reflects a basic problem facing the UNCF -- familiar donors are cutting back on their gifts, forcing fund-raisers to look elsewhere for money.
The 1979 UNCF annual report noted a $500,000 decrease in funds raised that year compared to the previous year. This decline was itemized to show reductions by different sources:
* Foundations -- down from $3.1 million to $2.55 million.
* Individuals -- down from $3.4 million to $2.8 million.
* Other colleges and universities -- lowered from $1.16 million to $648.171.
Major increases came only from corporations, up from $6.5 million to $7.3 million, and groups, up from $969,414 to $1.2 million.
Among the most valued donations this year is a $1.2 million gift to the UNCF from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to help the schools adopt effective management systems, a great need of black colleges, says Christopher Edley, UNCF executive director. "The Kellogg grant is a major contribution to the future of small and private colleges," he said.
The UNCF, he says, wants private black colleges to move away from the "day-by-day, hand-to-mouth existence of begging for help, to one of planning for the future, developing creative academics, and offering students meaningful scholarships -- rather than government loans and handouts. We can do this only if we can take care of our internal affairs efficiently."
Meanwhile, reports that the Reagan administration wants cutbacks in two phases of the Higher Education Act -- the Basic Educational Opportunity Grants (BEOG) of the Title IV students assistance program and the Title III institutional aid program -- are not encouraging, says Niles White, a UNCF policy analyst. These cuts would reduce funds available to black students, he says, "and most of our students receive some financial aid."
Observers say funds from traditional sources -- students tuition and fees, special fund-raising events, and alumni giving -- are not likely to fill the money gap.
Many black parents of college-eligible children, grounded in religious traditions, prefer the black private schools, with their emphasis on cultural and moral values. But they learn quickly that these schools -- especially the four in the Atlanta University complex -- are costlier than state-funded public black colleges. Many parents say they cannot afford higher costs.
So special fund-raising activities continue to be emphasized. The young people from boston's black ghetto, Roxbury, recognized Morehouse and Spelman as names of college choirs that perform in Boston each year.
They know that the Fisk Jubilee Singers will appear in a traditional Easter concert in Boston later this year, and that people will pay $6 to $25 to hear them sing. As they have done for 113 years, the Jubilee Singers will raise money for their college.
Many black colleges, faced by ever-mounting costs, consider today a time that may require the kind of radical action that created the UNCF in 1944.
At that time, the schools already were caught in a financial crunch, a situation magnified by the austerity policies of World War II. Twenty-seven colleges pooled their fund-raising efforts into one package on the proposal of Frederick D. Patterson, president of Tuskegee (Ala.) Institute.
Now Dr. Patterson, as director of the Moton Foundation in New York, is involved in an innovative idea for the 1980s designed to raise $47.5 million in endowments and $22 million in annual operating expenses within 25 years for black colleges. The project is not an UNCF effort.
Through a special low-interest loan fund financed by 19 insurance firms headed by Equitable Life Insurance Society of America, colleges may borrow money for investments to build their own endowments. After one year in operation, 17 colleges already are participating in the program. It is available to 61 schools.
Endowments are almost nonexistent among these colleges. Only Hampton Institute in Virginia, with a $30 million endowment, the largest among black colleges, and a few others such as Morehouse, Spelman, and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., boast more than token endowments.
Meanwhile, individual colleges have opened special fund-raising drives of their own -- some designed to establish faculty chairs, student fellowships, and scholarships, and to build new classroom facilities.
Special efforts along these lines are being made by three schools on the Boston group's itinerary: Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N. C., which has started a 10-year, $20 million drive; Allen, a non-UNCF college, which established a heritage fund, and Paine, which is collecting funds to help academically needy students.
"We are gaining amazing support from new sources -- the private sector in Charlotte, our alumni around the nation, and the corporate world outside our area," explains Wilbert Greenfield, president of Johnson C. Smith.
The Smith campaign seeks to meet various needs: a productive endowment, an updated curriculum, new classroom and dormitory facilities, and an improved faculty, says Dr. Greenfield.
Utilizing the talents of John Belk, president of a local department store chain, and campus archivist Inez Moore Parker, the university met its first-year goal of $2 million, including $1.2 million that came from the Charlotte area.
"most significantly, we are bridging the gap between town and gown through a board of visitors, community services, and student activities," Greenfield says. "We are updating our studies by offering computer science, urban studies, marketing, and pre-professional courses."
On Jan. 27, three major foundations --Duke Endowment, Charles Stewart Mott, and Rockefeller -- announced $624,000 grants to Smith. And since last September , the school has expanded its honors program for outstanding students, dedicated a new urban studies center, and disclosed a campus "master plan."
However, another drama is unfolding at 111-year-old allen University. An African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church school, Allen has had its troubles -- five presidents in five years and loss of two-thirds of its student body in the past decade. The school was placed on a probationary accredited status.
"Hey, I don't think I could take four years here," cracked a visiting Boston student. But the new Allen president, David W. Williams, takes another view.
"Resurrecting this school is not an impossible task, although some people tell me it is," said Dr. williams, who left Temple University in Philadelphia to take the position. "I don't believe them. It will take three years to apply for full accreditation, but the job can be done."
Dr. Williams promotes restoration of Allen as a historic site, possibly as a national park. "Several of its original structures cannot be duplicated," he says. "We are a unique campus architecturally, an asset to South Carolina."
Calling South Carolina "a fertile source for students," he said, "Allen has a long history of serving the unprivileged. We plan to hike our salaries to upgrade our faculty. We shall seek a stronger student body."
Williams also proposes a reorganized governing structure for Allen's administration; a new academic approach, emphasizing technology rather than liberal arts; and a long-range program of new construction and renovation of facilities.
Meanwhile, Roger Williams, assistant academic dean at Paine, says, "Paine takes students rejected by others. As time moves on, we expect to attract quality black students and white students, too. We take risks, but the unfit are weeded out. I don't think black colleges are about to go down the drain."