UNCF Names Legendary Educator Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole as President-In-Residence and Co-Chairperson of its $1 Billion Capital Campaign

Media Contact

Roy Betts UNCF Communications 240.703.3384 roy.betts@uncf.org

Dr. Cole’s appointment starts in February

UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is honored today to announce that distinguished scholar, anthropologist and academic pacesetter Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Ph.D., has accepted a president-in-residence position and will serve as co-chairperson of UNCF’s capital campaign.

In her role as co-chairperson of UNCF’s capital campaign, Dr. Cole will spearhead efforts to secure vital resources that will empower UNCF member colleges and universities to continue providing scholarships, support services and cutting-edge programs.

“I am elated to welcome my dear friend, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, fellow champion for equal justice in higher education, pioneering educator and extraordinary leader to join forces with UNCF to help us keep the momentum going with our bold, ambitious $1 billion capital campaign. With her immense expertise and passion for education, Dr. Cole will play a pivotal role in advancing the goals of our capital campaign and UNCF’s mission of ensuring equal access to higher education for underrepresented students of color,” said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO, UNCF.

“Dr. Cole will serve as an ambassador for the campaign and advocate with UNCF-member presidents and her own network to help identify new supporters. She is no stranger to conducting successful capital campaigns,” said Lomax.

Dr. Cole was the first Black woman to serve as president of Spelman College, which was founded specifically for the education of women of African descent, and she was also the president of Bennett College.

Under President Cole’s leadership, “The Spelman Campaign: Initiatives for the 90s,” was launched and raised $113.8 million for the college’s endowment. In 1992, the college announced the receipt of $37 million from the DeWitt Wallace/Readers Digest Fund—at the time, the largest gift ever given to a historically Black college or university. The campaign brought Spelman’s endowment to $141 million, the largest at that time for any HBCU. As president of Bennett College, Dr. Cole led a successful $50 million capital campaign.

“I am equally thrilled to echo Dr. Lomax’s sentiments about Dr. Cole coming on board as co-chairperson of our capital campaign. She is a national treasure and tremendous asset as a strong advocate for the success of UNCF, HBCUs and their students. I look forward to working with her closely to help us continue making significant progress with the capital campaign,” said Milton H. Jones, Jr., chair, UNCF Board of Directors.

“I very much look forward to joining my distinguished colleagues who currently serve as a president-in-residence. It is also a profound honor and a joy to serve as a co-chairperson for the UNCF capital campaign,” said Dr. Cole.

“As a youngster, I learned of the value and power of UNCF member institutions from the stories told by and about my own family members who graduated from those colleges and universities.  And then, I learned firsthand about these revered and important educational institutions when I was a student at a UNCF member university, and when I had the extraordinary privilege of serving as the president of the only two historically Black colleges for women in our nation, both of which are in the UNCF family. I continue to say what I have said and believed for many years: If UNCF member institutions did not exist, we would have to invent them!  That is their importance to our nation and to our world.”

Johnnetta Betsch Cole is widely recognized for her exceptional contributions to academia and her tireless advocacy for social justice. She has transformed institutions and empowered countless students to reach their full potential. Her commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion aligns perfectly with UNCF’s core values.

In 2023, President Joseph Biden presented Dr. Cole with the National Humanities Medal for her pioneering work about the “on-going contributions to Afro-Latin, Caribbean and African communities to advance American understanding of Black culture and the necessity and power of racial inclusion in our nation.”

Dr. Cole was the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art and served as the chair and seventh president of the National Council of Negro Women.

She lent her talents and expertise for a decades-long career in anthropology to Pixar filmmakers and artists who created “Soul,” Disney/Pixar’s Academy Award winning animated film.  She helped to craft characters and storylines that were authentic and inspired by real-life people, down to the smallest detail.

The recipient of 71 honorary degrees and numerous accolades, Dr. Cole has served on many boards including Home Depot and Merck.  In 2004, she became the first African American chair of the board of United Way of America, and she was a founding member of the Points of Light Foundation.

During her Spelman presidency, she was the first woman elected to serve on the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises. Dr. Cole was recently appointed as a Kettering Foundation Senior Fellow.  She also serves on the boards of the A. L. Lewis Black Opportunity and Impact Investment Fund and the A. L. Lewis Museum.

UNCF is committed to delivering the most relevant programming to aid in the success of its member institutions and the broader historically Black college and university (HBCU) and predominantly Black institution (PBI) communities. To do that effectively, UNCF partners with its 37 member institutions to explore opportunities and challenges, develop and deliver targeted programming, and support the institutions’ execution with capacity building and continuous improvement activities.

UNCF’s Presidents In-Residence (PIR) Program furthers these goals by inviting former presidents of HBCUs who seek to continue their engagement by lending their support and sharing their experience and insights with UNCF’s internal team and the broader HBCU community.

The PIR program seeks to encourage meaningful engagement in the work of UNCF by former HBCU presidents whose perspectives can shape and add value to the collective work. Former HBCU presidents to serve in this program include Dr. Beverly Hogan, Tougaloo College; Dr. Charles Nelms, North Carolina Central University; Dr. Billy Hawkins, Talladega College; and Dr. Haywood Strickland, Wiley College.


About UNCF

UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, supports and strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. While totaling only 3% of all colleges and universities, UNCF institutions and other historically Black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding 15% of bachelor’s degrees, 5% of master’s degrees, 10% of doctoral degrees and 19% of all STEM degrees earned by Black students in higher education. UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 50,000 students at over 1,100 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized trademark, A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”® Learn more at UNCF.org or for continuous updates and news, follow UNCF on Twitter at @UNCF.