For Chicago State University senior Tiffani Topps, receiving a $1,000 scholarship was a key step toward her future career.
Topps, 24, will be graduating in May with a degree in nursing, and the single mother and South Side native said that scholarship helped her immensely by allowing her to focus on school while taking care of her 3-year-old daughter.
“It helped take a lot of pressure off of me financially,” Topps said. “You can imagine the workload, having to take care of bills and take time away from studies and school.”
Because of a new fund from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., more students like Topps who attend predominantly or historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) will receive scholarships to help them pay for tuition, books and other school supplies.
Chicago State University is one of 96 institutions to receive a portion of the newly established AKA-HBCU Endowment Fund, which was created in partnership with the Educational Advancement Foundation. The fund will give the schools a total of $10 million over the next four years.
On Thursday, 32 of those HBCU presidents, including Chicago State President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott, will receive the first installment of the endowment gift in the amount of $50,000 at the organization’s headquarters in Chicago.
Scott said her college is Illinois’ only predominantly black university and a majority of its students have financial needs that are not fully met by federal and state grants. Additional scholarships from the endowment, she said, can help the school close that gap for students and remove economic barriers that stand in the way of college completion.
“The financial support needed to encourage and support college completion for black scholars cannot be underestimated,” Scott said. “As all universities continue to face federal and state funding reductions, we need to remember the enormous value of historically and predominantly black higher learning institutions and ensure they receive equitable funding.”
Students at historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., founded Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1908 as a service organization supporting African-Americans in education. Alpha Kappa Alpha International President Glenda Glover, who is both an alum and president of Tennessee State University, said that support is still essential today — especially at historically black colleges and universities.
“(HBCUs) are worth the investment,” Glover said. “Historically, they produce such great graduates, and these graduates have gone on to contribute to society … We want to congratulate them, and honor them for what they’ve done, and make sure they can continue to provide this kind of service.”
With a goal to build sustainable funding for these schools in the future, Glover said she’s committed to spending her four-year term as AKA president building the endowment fund’s foundation.
“It’s all about helping ourselves and sustaining our own heritage,” Glover said. “That’s what this endowment is all about.”
Arionne Nettles is a digital producer at WBEZ covering arts and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @arionnenettles.