A group of alumni, students, and activists dubbed the “HBCU Collective” took to Washington last Thursday. The HBCU Collective met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to make sure they follow up on President Trump’s promise to increase support to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
In March, Trump tried to solidify his commitment to HBCU’s with one of the almost 80 executive orders he has issued since taking office. Despite whatever unknown effort the President has put into acting on the order, the HBCU Collective seems unconvinced that the Trump administration will follow through on its promises. Their goal is to keep the pressure on.
Trump’s first meeting with HBCU presidents is being written off by many as an Omarosa Manigault operation for a political photo-op. That could sound a lot more valid when we consider that almost two months after visit, the administration has shown no interest in restoring Pell Grant programs or protect the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program — both of which were discussed at the March meeting. As of right now, the Pell Grant provides African American students with almost $4 billion worth of aid every year. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education went as far as to call it the “cornerstone” of black higher education.
Unlike many of her predecessors, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has next to no experience working in higher-ed, but her stance on public vs. charter school funding can be a gateway into understanding how she may or may not prioritize HBCU’s. DeVos has almost always seen competition as the answer to our struggling public school system — insisting that if there are more K-12 charter school options, the educational inequality exacerbated by their presence will just evaporate. The secretary maintains this position despite the fact that nearly 400,000 students in her home state of Michigan are stuck on charter school waiting lists while the public school system tailspins.
When it comes to the public vs. charter debate, DeVos has always come down on the side that punishes the struggling but vital system. That being the case, there is really no reason why should the HBCU Collective would believe the administration will, on their own accord, follow through with any promise made in the executive order. Right now prestigious HBCU’s with a long history of producing graduates like Howard University and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania are still struggling in the post-recession economy, and the administration is talking about solutions. Despite the economic difficulties however faced by these schools, surveys say that HBCU’s are still producing some of the most satisfied and successful graduates across the board. For example, the Department of Education statistics state that more today Howard University and Meharry Medical College still account for almost 20% of the degrees in medicine and dentistry to black students.
The timing of the descent on Washington by the HBCU Collective was decent, as the trip to Washington came just a few days after the Congressional Black Caucus announced a summer tour to hopefully galvanize black students politically. Despite pressure placed on congress by the HBCU Collective, the question still remains, how much vital recovery time are HBCU’s still losing without more government support? Beyond lost time, the help would need to come from a Secretary of Education with no ideological inclination to give it — and simply put, no one has that long.