Black colleges need help, and many see foundations as a source of financing for needs of various kinds. More than 80 percent of their students depend upon some form of federal aid, and this money is being cut.
''The historic role of the black college has been one of healing - healing through education one of the great injustices of history,'' reports the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in ''A New Program of Support: the Historically and Predominantly Black College.''
Praising black colleges as ''a major, national resource,'' the Mott Foundation is running a five-year Minority Higher Education Program, which started in 1979 with $2.4 million in grants to black colleges, and is ''expected to reach $20 million during the 1980s,'' says William S. White, president of the foundation. Two other foundations, Lilly Endowment and Kellogg Foundation, are also tailoring programs for black colleges.
The Ford Foundation has wrapped up a $50 million, six-year program to help upgrade these colleges. This was half of a $100 million fund to help under-represented minorities in the nation's colleges: blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, and native Americans. As officials at Ford and other foundations review their efforts in this field, few pretend to be able to fill the federal-funding gap.
Varied proposals are suggested - consortia to raise funds to help selected schools and programs; projects to create endowments, not only for private institutions but for public ones as well; and spinoff activities intended to create various improvements, ranging from full accreditation for various programs to the recruiting of more qualified faculty members.
But before black colleges can complete a successful grand push for additional foundation aid, they may have to improve their own efficiency - in administration, in curriculum, and in fund raising. They will have to sell themselves.
Together the nation's ''top 20'' foundations should create a $200 million pool to aid ''selected black colleges,'' says William Harvey, president of Hampton Institute, the nation's most heavily endowed black school.
''Pooled funds could be given in a form that would have impact on a small number of colleges - six perhaps, not more than 10,'' he said.
His plan is elitist rather than egalitarian, ''an approach preferred by others,'' Dr. Harvey said. He adds that the Ford Foundation started its six-year development plan with the ''impact idea, but it was dissipated.''
Another idea - endowment funds for black colleges, public and private, may be the wave of the future, says Dr. White at the Mott Foundation.
Now at the point of evaluating its five-year program, which has reached 25 of the nation's 105 predominantly black colleges, the Mott Foundation has approved the creation of an endowment program for public black colleges in 1983. It has hired Dr. Frederick D. Patterson, former president of Tuskegee Institute, to direct the project.
This project is modeled after a similar program, the College Endowment Funding Plan for private colleges of the United Negro College Fund, a fund-raising agency for 42 schools. Seed money for this effort was a $1 million Mott gift to the UNCF.
The Lilly Endowment, which emphasizes improvement of instruction in the social sciences, seeks ''faculty development, student development, and community service'' in its black-college effort, says Laura Bornholdt, vice-president for education.
An eight-year program, Lilly grants are made on a yearly basis for a three-year period, and they are renewable. A recently announced $123,621 social-science grant to Florida Memorial College is typical. It provides for faculty development, creation of a social-science learning center, student travel, a social-science lecture series, and additional personnel.
Dr. Bornholdt praises one spinoff development, the Committee in Institutional Cooperation (CIC), designed to encourage promising minority students from predominantly white as well as black schools to delve into scholarship, research , and the completion of the PhD degree.
''CIC was planned to provide a stronger pool of potential faculty members for predominantly black colleges,'' she explains. ''We originally funded CIC - a consortium of Big Ten colleges and the University of Chicago in the Midwest recruiting minority students for graduate study - for social science fellowships in 1977.''
Foundations could help with faculty salaries, says Dr. William Harris, first CIC director and newly installed president of Paine College in Augusta, Ga. ''We need additional funds to offer CIC and other scholars competitive salaries. We need foundation help to pay faculties what they deserve.''
The CIC retention rate is ''extremely high, around 80 percent,'' says Edmond Keller, program director, noting that 160 fellows are studying at the 11 universities and that about 45 are added each year. Two fellows have received their doctorates, and another will earn his Ph.D. in December, he says.
Civil rights protests of the 1960s brought the Kellogg Foundation into its black-college activities. ''We had an awakening after the riots of the 1960s,'' says Gary King, program director. ''We took an interest in minorities, especially blacks. We utilized a task force from the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges to decide what we could do for the ' 1890 institutions' (black land-grant colleges set up after the separate-but-equal doctrine was established in the South). Our program, which ends in 1986, reaches 16 campuses.''
One is North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, which has been certified and accredited in engineering and has strengthened its curriculum in business, business administration, and mass communications, including journalism and broadcasting.
Among the accomplishments of these grants, Dr. King lists accreditation, faculty improvement through travel and professional meetings, higher student academic performance, and modernized equipment. Several of the public colleges are developing academic programs enabling them to attract white students, he adds.
''Our orientation after this is not clear,'' Dr. King said. ''We are in the midst of a program review.''
What can be expected from foundations realistically?
Foundations ranked only third as a class of donors to the United Negro College Fund in 1981 - corporations were an overwhelming first, says Ilene Dorn Pollack, manager of media relations. She says 1,038 foundations gave $3.4 million, and only 14 donated $50,000 or more to the UNCF for its 42 member schools. The biggest giver was the Lilly Endowment with $332,590, nearly 10 percent of the total. The UNCF 1982 goal is $4 million from foundations.
Most foundations are indifferent to black colleges, offering only small and token grants, says Meldon Hollis, former vice-president for endowment at Texas Southern University and recently hired by Harvard. Black state schools like Texas Southern have no endowments and need help badly, he says.
''Black colleges have relied too much on federal funds in the past,'' he said. ''New foundations being established by industry could be a resource for colleges that have well-organized development offices. At the same time fund raising efforts must be modernized to meet competition for grants.''
Many foundations choose to help individual campuses. Wilberforce University, the nation's second-oldest black college, listed 36 foundations among its donors during the 1980-81 fiscal year. The Duke Endowment supports Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., among four selected colleges.
Hampton, the only college ever to quit UNCF, has developed its own core of donors, as have several black colleges. In the new crunch for funds each black college may do well to develop its own resources through foundations that adopt a college's needs as their special projects.