The President’s statement that the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Capital Financing Program may be unconstitutional is wrong and dangerous for a couple of reasons. For too long, HBCUs have found themselves at the center of redundant conversations about their relevance and whether or not they’re still needed. To make matters worse, the current White House administration has attempted to inject mischaracterizations. Consider Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development who recently referred to HBCUs as the early form of “school choice” and half -truths from President Donald J. Trump about how he says he has done more for HBCUs than President Obama.
One of the real issues is this: Higher education in the U.S. is becoming more and more competitive and it is becoming harder for non-flagship public institutions to compete for incoming students with their flagship counterparts. It’s hard enough to compete with mainstream public institutions for top-tier faculty, research funding, and funding to add and expand academic offerings- not to mention facilities and technology infrastructure. Here’s the reality: HBCU presidents point to infrastructure issues as one of their most pressing issues: new construction, deferred maintenance and technology are right at the top of the list, according to the Association of Governing Boards <https://www.agb.org/reports/2014/top-strategic-issues-facing-hbcus-now-and-future> for Colleges and Universities’ report, “Top Strategic Issues Facing HBCUS: Now, and into the Future.”
HBCUs need as much assistance in achieving parity in these areas as possible. Even though it may be considered partisan, Obama’s 2020 College Completion Goal <https://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/winning-the-future.ppt> is essential to the U.S. remaining competitive in the global economy as well as for the growth and well-being of the American workforce. This goal, as stated in the 2020 Completion Plan, cannot be made possible without the contribution of public and private HBCUs.
Despite President Trump’s characterization of HBCUs as operating based on “race, ethnicity, and gender”, HBCUs admit students of all backgrounds, regardless of race, ethnicity and creed. The same can be said of HBCU faculty, staff, administration, and boards of trustees. Additionally, there are enough studies and statistics generated over the last 10 years pointing to the success rates of various student learning styles across a variety of factors including class size, teaching styles, and levels of extra-curricular support and tutorial needed to succeed in the classroom. A recent Education Trust <https://edtrust.org/resource/blackstudentsuccess/> report showed that black students at HBCUs graduate at a rate of 37.5%, compared with 32% for black students at non-HBCUs. Other reports show that HBCUs account for 10 out of the 20 colleges awarding degrees in STEM fields <http://www.chronicle.com/article/HBCUs-an-Unheralded-Role-in/235481>. A Gallup poll <http://www.gallup.com/poll/186362/grads-historically-black-colleges-edge.aspx> revealed that graduates of HBCUs are succeeding and, in fact, thriving, compared to black alumni from non-HBCUs. Despite the President’s statement that the HBCU Capital Financing Program may be unconstitutional, which we believe is not, the Tom Joyner Foundation counters that the program is actually below the level of what this or any other administration can do to 1) Keep HBCUs competitive for potential students and 2) Invest in a growing and diversifying workforce for the overall benefit of the national economy.
Rather than wrongly think aloud about whether the program is or is not constitutional, the President and his administration should be taking serious and careful consideration about how to aid HBCUs above and beyond anything that his predecessors have done. Rather than aiming to retain support and assistance at historic levels, now is the time to reinvest in these schools. Low-interest loans for capital improvements are helpful and good for HBCUs, but HBCUs can also benefit from additional opportunities to partner with the various Federal agencies and departments for the purposes of research and employment opportunities, block grants to states that house 2 or more public HBCUs, and increase access and benefits to the Pell Grant, among other things. A tangible and detailed commitment to HBCUs is an opportunity for the Trump administration to further ensure that all people, regardless of their age, grade point average, or socioeconomic status, can attend an accredited college or university to better provide for themselves, their families, their communities, and to make a lasting contribution to the prosperity of the United States of America.
Tom Joyner is chairman and founder of the 19-year-old Tom Joyner Foundation and Thomas Joyner, Jr. is president and CEO of the foundation that has raised more than $65 million to help more than 29,000 students at HBCUs.