BY JAMES HARPER
Some college students who depend on financial aid may not be able to attend classes next year or first-generation students may not get money to attend school in the fall if the government can’t solve its problems.
That’s according to Dr. Wendy B. Libby, president of Stetson University, who participated in a symposium at Bethune-Cookman University last month in which the topic was “An examination of the Impact of Federal Legislation on the Future of HBCUs and Smaller Colleges.”
Libby was commenting on the government shutdown that didn’t end until Oct. 17. It closed many government departments, furloughed 800,000 workers, and cut off or delayed financial aid to college students.
Another battle coming
President Obama succeeded in winning an increase in the debt ceiling, along with funding to end the partial government shutdown, but it was a deal that left America’s debt crisis unaddressed and triggered another battle months from now. The bill signed by the president on Oct. 17 will fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt cap through Feb. 7.
Libby noted uncertainty at the federal level is the worst thing that can happen to colleges and universities that depend upon donations from alumni.
“We rely on philanthropy … (the shutdown) makes investors uncertain. They are giving out of their wealth,” she said, noting the donors’ wealth in many cases is tied to the stock market, which is affected by decisions made in Washington, D.C.
The symposium was moderated by former Bennett College President Dr. Julianne Malveaux. In addition to Libby, participants were Dr. Cheryl Davenport Dozier, president, Savannah State University; Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF; and Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard, executive vice President and COO of Johnson C. Smith University.
B-CU president Dr. Edison Jackson, who was inaugurated as the school’s president on Oct. 16, the day before the symposium, introduced the panelists and moderator to an audience made up of B-CU students, faculty and staff and the community.
Malveaux agreed with Libby on the impact of the shutdown, saying it will have a long-term negative impact, especially on Blacks.
“When the fed cuts, the state cuts, when the state cuts, city cuts. It’s a trickle down. When American economy gets a cold, Blacks folks get pneumonia,” she quipped.
Malveaux compared the Republicans refusal to support a continuing resolution and an increase in the debt ceiling “a temper tantrum.’’
“An African-American president they want to hold to different, impossible standard,” she added.
HBCUs still relevant
Malveaux also commented that there is still a need for historically Black colleges and universities.
“If we didn’t’ have them, we would have to invent them,” she noted.
“We have not changed the way we deliver education. The student body has changed, but not higher education. Everybody can’t go to an HBCU. Everybody’s not ready for experience. What is missing is national commitment – dollars to support HBCUs – funds other schools get easily,” she continued.
Pinkard also noted HBCU’s existence is just as important as colleges originally founded for women, Catholics, and Hispanics.
“We cannot do business the way we have been doing business in the past. Institutions will not exist if not strategic and respond to the times,” he added.
Dozier noted that HBCUs like Savannah State are impacted by the federal government because 80 percent of their students are on Pell grants; 94 percent depend on financial aid; and 40 percent are first-generation students attending college.
She pointed out many first-generation students come from families that are struggling and may have depended upon food stamps, WIC and Head Start, all government programs that were affected by the shutdown.
‘Take education seriously’
Malveaux had an unfavorable critique of the elected officials in D.C.
“We’ve learned how to disagree vehemently but haven’t learned how to compromise,” she stated.
Dozier said their challenge is to graduate more students.
“We have to value an education. If you put something up here (pointing at her brain), you can’t take it away. Take your education seriously,” she remarked.