Without a college degree, Dr. Dre has built a lucrative career around music and now he’s entering the world of academic philanthropy. Along with his longtime business partner, Jimmy Iovine, they’ve donated $70 million to the University of Southern California towards the creation of a degree that combines business, marketing, product development, design and liberal arts.
The idea for the creation of an academic program that specifically targeted their needs “came out of us trying to find people to work for us,” Iovine told the New York Times.
Iovine and Dr. Dre created Beats By Dre, and the company earns $1 billion in sales annually. But they felt there was a lack of talent to recruit when it came to software engineers and marketing experts.
Part of the donations will go to financially supporting disadvantaged students to “go on to do something that could potentially change the world,” Dre described.
This act of philanthropy has it’s naysayers. In a recent article for The LA Times, Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, a liberal arts black college in New Orleans, questioned why Dr. Dre didn’t donate the money to a black college?
I understood their need to build a pool of skilled talent. But why at USC? Iovine’s daughter is an alum, sure. And he just gave its commencement address. Andre Young — before he was Dr. Dre — grew up in nearby Compton, where he rose to fame as part of the rap group N.W.A. The Beats headquarters are on L.A.’s Westside.
Still, what if Dre had given $35 million — his half of the USC gift and about 10% of his wealth, according to a Forbes estimate — to an institution that enrolls the very people who supported his career from the beginning? An institution where the majority of students are low-income? A place where $35 million would represent a truly transformational gift?
Why didn’t Dr. Dre give it to a black college?
Make no mistake: This donation is historic. It appears to be the largest gift by a black man to any college or university, comparable to the gift Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, gave to Spelman College in 1988. Some 25 years later, their $20-million gift (about $39 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) is still the largest-ever private gift to a historically black college. Dre gave USC almost triple the amount Oprah Winfrey has givenMorehouse College over the years. Sean “Diddy” Combs gave $500,000 to Howard University in 1999, which he attended before launching a successful career.
A hip-hop icon is now the new black higher-ed philanthropy king. We’ve never seen a donation to rival this from any black celebrity — musician, athlete or actor — and that fact must be celebrated.
But as the president of a black college, it pains me as well. I can’t help but wish that Dre’s wealth, generated as it was by his largely black hip-hop fans, was coming back to support that community.
USC is a great institution, no question. But it has a $3.5-billion endowment, the 21st largest in the nation and much more than every black college — combined. Less than 20% of USC’s student body qualifies for federal Pell Grants, given to students from low-income families, compared with two-thirds of those enrolled at black colleges. USC has also seen a steady decrease in black student enrollment, which is now below 5%.
What do you think? Should It Matter What Type Of University Dr. Dre Donated His Money To?