I Think Dr. Dre Heard Me

Four years ago I penned an editorial after learning that Dr. Dre, hip hop mogul and member of the iconic group NWA, gave $35 million to the University of Southern California, a gift matched by his friend and business partner Jimmy Iovine. Their combined gift led to the creation of a new academy at Southern Cal, a very cool and creative concept that presumably would help to generate the kind of skilled employees for a company like Beats.

I lamented then that I wished Dr. Dre had given that money to an institution that could really use a gift of that magnitude, a gift that for many institutions would be transformational. Being the president of a historically Black college, enrolling a demographic that has supported Dr. Dre over the entire course of his career, I suggested that he could have given the gift to an HBCU.

I was surprised how widely read the article was, as people all over the country responded. The Times told me it was one of their most widely commented pieces. The majority agreed with my argument (I even got a call from Representative Maxine Waters), but a fair number thought it was unfair since of course, it was Dre’s money and he can do with it as he pleased (which, for the record, I stated in my piece).

Dr. Dre has now given us an opportunity to answer the main questions I asked four years ago. I wrote, “What if Dre had given 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?”

This week he announced a $10 million pledge to Compton High School for a state of the art performing arts complex, which is part of a planned new Compton High School scheduled to break ground in 2020. In a statement to the LA Times, Dre indicated “My goal is to provide kids with the kind of tools and learning they deserve.”

This is fantastic, not just because of a gift that will transform the learning culture at Compton High School, but a statement that suggests Dr. Dre understands what I had hoped he and other wealthy philanthropists would, that all kids deserve the best.

Compton High School is like many urban high schools, under-resourced and under-performing. Over 2,200 students, 94% socioeconomically disadvantaged, 86% eligible for free or reduced lunch, 81% Latino and 17% black. In the 2013–14 school accountability report card, Compton High was graded as poor in seven of eight facilities categories. For the California Standards Test, 23% of Compton High students were proficient or above in reading (compared to State average of 55%), and just 6% in math (compared to 50% for the State).

These kids have nothing at home, nothing at school. A new school complex was clearly needed, and Dr. Dre’s gift now enhances that project to give these students the tools to better compete with other kids to go to college. This public-private partnership is one that entertainers and business moguls could easily replicate all around the nation, not just for infrastructure projects, but to help hire more teachers (Compton High students staged a walk out in 2012 due to large class sizes as the result of State budget cuts).

That’s why I thought the USC gift was wasteful. They have a $5 billion endowment, charge $52,000 in tuition and fees and less than a quarter of students are Pell eligible. USC is one of the 20 wealthiest private universities in the nation that hold 70% of the wealth of all of higher education (4,000 plus institutions). It is 13% Latino, 5% Black, and has experienced racial incidents involving Asian student and an Indian-American SGA president.

Realistically, USC is out of reach for Compton students where the average SAT reading score is 220 points below the average of the bottom quartile of USC students, and 250 points below in math. This transformational gift now helps to give hope to a new generation of Compton High students who will enter a first class learning environment that they deserve.

USC is a great American university, but never deserved a gift of this magnitude from a hip hop icon whose music has been the antithesis of their existence. It was simply another feather in their cap, an opportunity to create something unique and innovative.

Dr. Dre’s latest gift though is transformational. Here’s hoping that others will follow his lead, and give their own transformational gifts.

Because there are millions of kids yearning for the tools and learning they deserve.