Honoring our Historical African American Colleges & Universities, part 3

Throughout the years, many Presidents have been actively involved in advocating for a more equitable support of our nation’s African American population. Their efforts included attempts at advancing education for black families and communities. As President Trump steps up to join in, many of our African American college and university leaders are giving it another try. These leaders hope for significant evidence of support going forward. Yet, some continue to be skeptical of seeing anything different from what they experienced in the past decades.

During the early years there was considerable hope when Obama was first elected. However, as the years rolled on, tensions spilled over from many entities who felt his policies were significantly hurting their schools. By 2015, Washington Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel wrote in Historically black schools say Obama’s policies have fallen short (March 6, 2015) that “Tensions spilled over after a recent Congressional Black Caucus meeting with Obama and Vice President Biden in which the president said that historically black schools, also known as HBCUs, needed to do a better job graduating students and not saddling them with debt, according to several people at the meeting. Some Black Caucus members bristled at those remarks since they say the president didn’t acknowledge that his own administration was also pursuing policies that advocates say are hurting the schools.”

The Obama White House advisory board for historically black colleges and universities even delivered a “. . . blunt criticism to the administration. We are not consulted when it comes to policy changes and decisions impacting — in a major way — the institutions on whose behalf we are to advocate . . .” In addition, the restrictive federal loan policies enacted particularly for parents, along with the new college ratings system under Obama hit the HBCUs, costing black schools more than $150 million in revenue. The United Negro College Fund estimated that about 28,000 black college students dropped out during the 2012-13 academic year because their families could not get loans.

According to Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor), President Trump Signs Executive Order on HBCUs (Black in America, February 28, 2017), “HBCUs collectively lost over $300 million in grants and tuition after a bureaucratic level decision in 2011 enacted in Obama’s Department of Education made obtaining Parent PLUS loans much more difficult.” During the Obama administration, summer Pell Grants were also eliminated, but HBCU presidents wanted them restored. Almost two-thirds of African American undergraduates receive Pell funding.

In 2015, President Obama proposed two years free community college but without consulting HBCU representatives. “Many of those advocates viewed the proposal as a threat to HBCUs. The proposal, which was never enacted by a Republican-controlled Congress, was later changed to include HBCUs.” Relationships were further strained by President Obama being critical of HBCU graduation rates and loan policies.

Fast forward to President Trump’s HBCU president’s reception Monday night (Feb 28, 2017), “. . . Grambling President Rick Gallot told the NNPA Newswire that the priorities of HBCUs are, ‘spending on campus infrastructure and an increase in year around Pell Grants.’ The initiative on HBCUs, ‘lost track, because they didn’t have the full force of the White House behind them. This HBCU order will do that by repositioning the initiative in the White House,’ the senior Trump Administration official said.”

In Douglas-Gabriel’s Washington Post article (previously noted) Obama’s administration stated there is a need for a “. . . system that rewards success of institutions that take greater risk with students and do a better job with lower-income students.” And some say, “Many of the schools were strapped for cash after years of financial mismanagement, poor alumni giving and fluctuating levels of government support. They are seeing a drop in enrollment, and many are struggling to graduate students on time.” Then add budget cuts and aging facilities.

It seems there are always two sides and perspectives to any relationship. Helping HBCUs is still definitely a working-out relationship in process. It is eagerly hoped Trump stepping in early will add a constructive and positive contribution to the challenges ahead for HBCUs. This brings us to the latest next step with Trump’s Executive Order on behalf of HBCUs to be covered in part 4.