BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Dr. Edison Jackson, Bethune-Cookman University’s president, was among the leaders of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) who met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday.
Shortly after the meeting, Trump signed an executive order pledging support for HBCUs.
“We are looking for more investment in our institutions,” Jackson said in an interview on campus with local media a few days prior to the White House meeting.
The Feb. 27 meeting with Trump was a photo-op in the Oval Office and group “listening session” meeting with Vice President Michael Pence with more than 60 HBCU presidents. It was the first meeting of its kind with HBCU presidents and chancellors in at least eight years.
Wanted: $25 billion
Trump’s executive order didn’t give any funding amount specifics but HBCU leaders and advocacy groups have been seeking $25 billion to address infrastructure and other needs.
HBCU leaders used Tuesday’s meeting as an opportunity to address issues like access to federal funds as well as for infrastructure, college readiness, financial aid and other priorities.
“We are looking for opportunities for our faculty to plug into research dollars. We hired faculty who are research faculty. We have increased our success in terms of securing some federal grants like National Science Foundation, etc.,” Jackson said.
“If you think of the billions of dollars that the U.S. government spends on research and development, we are seeking greater support for us to get some of the front costs when securing research grants. It is an investment, which is an investment for the long-term not just the short-term,’’ he added.
‘At the table’
The White House visit was initiated by Trump and his staff, not the HBCU leaders.
“We did not seek the meeting. We might have down the road, but his staff came up with it,” said Jackson noted.
Many of the HBCU presidents were in Washington, D.C. for a United Negro College Fund meeting.
Jackson remarked, “We changed our schedules. The United Negro College Fund was to meet at our annual meeting in New York this week. We changed our plans. If you’re not sitting at the table, you may be on the menu. This was very important to us.”
While HBCU presidents said they were happy to see their institutions receiving attention within the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, they were cautiously optimistic.
“There was very little listening to HBCU presidents today. We were only given about two minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about seven of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today,” wrote Dillard President Walter Kimbrough detailed in a column posted on Medium the night of Feb. 27.
About Trump’s order
Trump’s executive order aims to bolster strategic partnerships with other agencies and outside groups by giving more visibility.
It directs the initiative to work with the private sector to strengthen the fiscal stability of HBCUs, make infrastructure improvements, provide job opportunities for students, works with secondary schools to create a college pipeline and increase access and opportunity for federal grants and contracts.
The executive order also moves the HBCU Initiative back into the White House. The HBCU Initiative recently was housed in the Department of Education. It was created during the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
Better than Obama?
A senior White House official said the Trump administration wants HBCUs to serve as partners in the president’s urban agenda and wants to increase the private sector’s role in supporting and strengthening their participation in federal programs.
HBCUs did not fare well during the Obama administration. In 2009, the Obama administration failed to renew a two-year appropriation for HBCUs of $85 million a year. The money would later have to be restored by concerned Democrats who controlled Congress.
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. As a result, 28,000 HBCU students were negatively impacted.
In September 2013, President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized to HBCU leaders and advocates for the Parent PLUS loan decision. In 2012, Duncan proposed an end to a three-year implementation of summer Pell Grants.
The elimination of summer Pell Grants is an issue HBCU presidents often say they’d like restored. Almost two-thirds of African-American undergraduate students receive Pell funding.
In 2015, Obama proposed two years of free community college without consulting HBCU advocates. 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.
In early 2015, during a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama expressed what many members later told the NNPA Newswire was a lack of support for HBCUs. He was critical of HBCU graduation rates and loan policies.
In February 2015, Obama’s own HBCU Board of Advisors chair, Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey, was critical of the Obama 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,” said Harvey. “It happened with Pell. It happened with Parent PLUS. And, now it is happening with the new community college initiative.”
Making a difference
Although HBCUs comprise just 3 percent of higher education institutions in the U.S., “HBCUs contributed 19 percent of the nearly 9 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering awarded to Blacks in 2010,” according to American Institutes for Research (AIR).
AIR also reported that “By 2010, approximately 33 percent of all Black students who earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics attended HBCUs, and HBCUs produced nearly 37 percent of all Black undergraduates who received bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences.”
An NNPA Newswire report by Lauren Victoria Burke was used in this article.