BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Florida’s three private historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are getting some much needed financial support.
The Florida Legislature has designated $33 million in recurring additional funding to assist Bethune-Cookman University, Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens and Edward Waters College in Jacksonville.
On March 21, members of the Florida Congressional Black Caucus announced the details during a press conference at B-CU.
Funding for B-CU would total $17.3 million in recurring support with additional support of $15.75 million to be divided by Edward Waters and Florida Memorial.
“I am pleased to announce that our private HBCU’s will receive this recurring funding. This legislative action will serve as a historical landmark in the life of Bethune-Cookman University,” said State Senator Randolph Bracy.
“This shows our legislatures are committed to provide vital support to our state’s private HBCUs and sustaining their success.’’
The money covers gap funding, which is additional funding students need to pay their tuition after financial aid and student loans.
Bethune-Cookman sent a delegation of staff, students and alumni to Tallahassee Jan. 22 on HBCU Day at the Capitol in February to garner support for the university and other HBCUs.
“It was a team effort. Our students played a great role. They went to Tallahassee and made an impression on the state legislature,’’ said Belvin Perry, chair of B-CU’s Board of Trustees.
“Our school has been written off as failure with one foot in the grave, but we didn’t listen. We knew what was here. This will go down in history.’’
The funding will also help the school’s students with access, retention and graduation.
“It’s huge. We expect our enrollment to increase as we move toward financial stability. It’s not only importantly for future students but those who had to drop out and weren’t able to complete their education at Bethune-Cookman or Edward Waters or Florida Memorial,” responded Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, B-CU’s president.
It could also help the school’s accreditation status. B-CU is on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) mainly due to its financial debt. The school is on its second straight year of probation.
Chrite added, “This funding is an absolutely essential element to restoring our accreditation standing. Our future is bright and the state of Florida is behind us. The impact is not just financial.”
‘Excited and hopeful’
During that press conference, Chrite noted that B-CU was working on submitting its application for accreditation status to SACS.
“We will submit within a week and a half. We are excited and hopeful. This is an essential and welcomed step towards that,” he said.
How it happened
Bracy initiated discussions with Florida Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Tampa Bay) about the funding proposal during the early months of the summer legislative meetings in 2019 after Perry expressed concern to Bracy about B-CU’s future.
Others who played a key role include Rep. Bruce Antone with other members of the Florida Black Caucus membership who made this effort its priority driven by Senator Perry E. Thurston, Jr. (D–Fort Lauderdale); Senator Oscar Braynon (D–Miami Gardens); Senator Audrey Gibson (D- Jacksonville) and Representative Bobby DuBose (D–Fort Lauderdale) all of whom advocated for approval of the funding.
Also supporting this effort were Senator Rob Bradley (R–Orange Park); Florida House Speaker Jose R. Olivia, (R-Miami Lakes); Rep. W. Travis Cummings (R–Orange Park) and Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R–DeLand).
Preserving founder’s dream
Members of the state legislature weighed in on the importance of the funding helping these HBCUs. They also weighed in on keeping alive the life, legacy and dream of Bethune-Cookman founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
“I grew up in Orlando. I remember passing by many institutions that I couldn’t attend as an African American. Bethune-Cookman was one of the few choices for people who couldn’t attend those schools. Blacks paid taxes that funded the other education institutions but couldn’t attend,’’ expressed State Rep. Geraldine Thompson.
“We want to keep the legacy of Dr. Bethune alive. This gap funding will help out students who normally have to work while in school. Many fall out and drop out this could help,”
‘Huge for B-CU’
Fetterhoff also noted the importance of the funding.
“This is huge for B-CU, which plays a huge role in this area. The Black Caucus stressed the importance of getting this done. This provides security for the students at this university where they can graduate and go on and be productive citizens in our society.”
Bethune-Cookman is in Fetterhoff’s congressional district, which entails parts of Daytona Beach and DeLand.
The measure next must be signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
“We do expect the governor to sign the bill,” Bracy added.