DAYTONA BEACH — Lawmakers and leaders at Bethune-Cookman University on Friday basked in the glow of news that the private school, on the edge of surviving for the past couple of years, would be getting $17 million, including $13 million of that in new, recurring money from the state.
That state budget, passed by the House and Senate Thursday, includes plans to spend $93.2 billion on running the government, proving new money for affordable housing, teachers’ pay and utility projects. Locally, the biggest story, though, was the embrace of Florida’s private historically black colleges.
In all, B-CU, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University will be getting a $33 million injection annually in recurring funds.
“This funding commitment should convey to the community, parents, alumni, current and future students that we as a state government are committed to the success of Bethune-Cookman University and our HBCUs,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, one of a host of lawmakers who helped shepherd a large portion of the money — providing gap funding to the three schools — into the budget.
That money aims to close the gaps students face in attempting to pay for college. More than 90% of B-CU’s students qualify for Pell Grants and many receive other kinds of assistance for tuition, books and housing, but they are also coming from families who cannot afford to provide any assistance, said Brent Chrite, the university president.
“This is a historic and unprecedented occasion,” said Chrite, whose team will be sending a report to the school’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and School’s Commission on College, which had placed the school on probation in 2018. Last month, Chrite had said he was attempting to close an $8 million deficit he said was necessary to meet the accrediting requirements.
Five philanthropic Volusia County families had each contributed $50,000 or more, while one of those donors, the influential home building magnate Mori Hosseini, lent his political clout to the cause.
Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, sponsored the bill in the House. B-CU’s main campus is in her district.
“I’ve met with these students here and I realize how important these dollars are to keep feeling like they have security in their education and being able to graduate on time,” Fetterhoff said.
Retired Judge Belvin Perry, who chairs B-CU’s Board of Trustees, said convincing House and Senate leadership, as well as Gov. Ron DeSantis, of the worthiness of funding the state’s HBCUs involved many hands.
“We worked this thing from top to bottom,” Perry said. “This was a team effort and one of the most important elements … were our students.
″(Some of our) students went to Tallahassee and they made an impression on legislators. They saw the product that Bethune-Cookman was producing,” Perry said.
Chrite, the university president, said Perry himself was a big part of landing the money.
“He has spent more time in the capital than is either fair or reasonable for a board chair,” Chrite said. “This is what stewardship and governance and leadership looks like. … Our fight has been for the survival and the well-being of this institution and this community and the students we serve and I am blessed and pleased and have a partner in all our Board of Trustees.