According to reports and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, President Obama has made some critical comments on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) this past week after the Black Caucus met with POTUS on Tuesday, Feb. 11, their first meeting since 2013 and the first with led by Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) on the most powerful man in the world said, “He said there were some HBCUs that were not good at graduating students and if they did not improve they’d have to go by the wayside.”
[quote_center]“We worked on this for two years and it’s a lack of understanding with this Administration and – in particular – this Secretary,” Rep. Connie Brown said in reference to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.[/quote_center]
It is nothing new that during the administration of the first African-American president, HBCUs have had a continued tough plight getting support from Congress. Just recently, in 2011, some several thousand students had to end their studies due to a change of policy on Parent PLUS loans, and would eventually cost the country’s 107 Black colleges over $150 million, reports the Crew of 42:
[pull_quote_center]”In August 2012, Morris Brown College filed for Chapter 11. In 2013, St. Paul College closed after 125 years. This week it was learned that South Carolina State University may close for a year. Title III spending on HBCUs has steadily gone down since 2009.”[/pull_quote_center]
Hampton University President and Chairman of the Obama Administration’s HBCU Initiative, Dr. William R. Harvey recently issued critical comments to administration officials concerning HBCU funding and the lack of inclusion of the Board of Advisers for the Initiative on the administration’s policies.
[quote_box_center]“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. It happened with Pell. It happened with Parent Plus. And, now it’s happening with the new community college initiative,” Dr. Harvey said.[/quote_box_center]
He added, “Pell grants to HBCUs are down. Direct loans to our students are down. Graduate subsidies have been eliminated. In addition to student support, overall support to Black colleges is down.”
The President’s sharpest criticism of the institutions was centered on the graduation rates. Former Black Caucus Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) offered a retort to Obama’s emphasis on that particular point: “I would also suggest that there are as many private and for-profit schools who fail our children in a much larger way and nobody talks about them. Why single out HBCUs?”
Several HBCUs are on the list of worst graduation rates but they are not alone. Some of the country’s worst graduation rates according to Crew of 42 are Utah Valley University (15% graduation rate), University of Maryland-University College (10%), and historically Black Kent State University (23%).
According to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), “What we should be talking about is: If there are weaknesses at certain HBCUs what do we do to strengthen those institutions.”
Rep. Fudge asks a sharp question that is not being addressed by the federal government in any substantive way that we are aware of. The for-profit schools that have poor graduation rates and unprepared graduates, straddle them with great amounts of debt as well. Many of these schools disservice many students in ways that HBCUs cannot reasonably be compared to. That needs to be addressed by the federal government.
Rep. Thompson expresses the basic sentiment of many alumni, employees, community members, and supporters of HBCUs. The task of helping to sustain and build up our HBCUs that are struggling should be not only a task of individual institutions themselves, but also the broader HBCU community and the federal government, where it can (i.e. funding, Pell grants, student loans). In addition, as Hampton President Dr. Harvey espoused his discontent with the handling of the advisory board which he chairs, it indicates a recurring theme in this administration.
There appears to be an indifference to HBCUs that is difficult to explain.
To be indifferent to the needs of these historic, enriching, and valuable institutions of higher education is most unfortunate. The important role that these institutions continue to serve in this country is unmatched. That cannot be something as the President is reported to have said, “to go by the wayside.”