Kirsten Green and Carlos Morris, both of Lawson State, outside the Rayburn building
By Mary Ellen Flannery
Inside a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill, at the invitation of NEA, more than 150 faculty members, students and leaders of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) met last week with U.S. Representatives who share their concern around HBCU funding.
“What we’ve heard over and again is that the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” said Kirsten Green of Alabama’s Lawson State Community College.
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Last week, NEA held its first national NEA HBCU Summit, drawing attendees from more than one-third of the nation’s HBCUs to Washington, D.C., for three days of listening, learning, and lobbying. A key issue was federal investments in HBCUs.
For too long, HBCUs have been too quiet about their lack of resources and funding, advocates say, and have suffered the consequences. New NEA research, released at the summit, shows that federal funding for HBCUs has lagged behind funding for predominantly White land-grant universities for more than 100 years. And it’s only getting worse.
The proposed Trump/DeVos budget would provide about $427 million to HBCUs in 2018, or $30 million less than HBCUs received in 2010. The budget also cuts more than $140 million from student aid programs, including Pell grants and Perkins loans, which many HBCU students rely on, and it cuts millions more from college access programs.
“We need action now,” U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus, told NEA HBCU Summit attendees. “It’s shameful to me that the President can have HBCU presidents in the Oval Office, and then cut our budgets!”
This is a battle that HBCU advocates, including those in Congress, must take on, said U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL). “We are passionate about making sure HBCUs get the resources you need to fulfill your missions,” said Sewell. “This administration is cutting funding left, right, and center. It is tragic that HBCUs have lost funding for Upward Bound. It’s critical to get that back. We have work to do, and we must start doing our work!”
Even as HBCUs educate more than 70 percent of Black doctors and 50 percent of Black engineers, noted U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), HBCU advocates still find themselves defending their missions.
This is ridiculous, suggested the summit’s keynote speaker, Ivory Toldson, former director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.
There is genius on your campuses, Toldson told HBCU faculty and leaders on Saturday. “Get out of the posture of defending [HBCU] relevance. Get into the stance of asserting our excellence,” he urged.
This means sharing stories about HBCU research and scholarships, and also telling lawmakers how HBCUs are leading the way for people of color to become teachers. (More than 50 percent of the nation’s Black teachers earned their degrees at HBCUs.)
“We need to have the uncomfortable conversations with people who don’t even know what HBCUs are,” said Green.