Walter M. Kimbrough, President of Dillard University, Issues Statement About HBCUs

Statement by Walter M. Kimbrough, President, Dillard University

In his Oscars acceptance speech, Mahershala Ali celebrated
American’s belief in the transformative power of education when he first
thanked his teachers and professors. Historically black colleges and
universities are living testimonies of this power, the central force in
educating people inextricably linked to the promise of America.

Fifty years ago a philosophy emerged suggesting education was no longer a
public good, but a private one. Since then we¹ve seen Federal and State
divestment in education, making the idea of education as the path to the
American dream more of a hallucination for the poor and disenfranchised.

There is no doubt who is left to hallucinate.

In the past decade the wealth gap between whites and blacks has gone from
seven to thirteen fold. The median net worth of a single parent white family
is twice that of the two parent black family. Black students graduate with
31% more college debt than their white peers.

The Pell Grant should be the equalizer. It serves 36% of all students, 62%
of Black students, and over 70% attending
HBCUs. But the education as a
private good philosophy has severely limited its impact on the neediest

Therefore we must:

  • Raise the maximum Pell Grant, which has hit a 40-year low in purchasing
    power relative to college costs and index it permanently to account for
  • Restore year-round Pell Grants that enable students to finish college
    faster and with less debt;
  • And remove time limits to benefit growing numbers of part time students
    who may require more than 12 semesters to graduate.

Pell is a great investment especially at HBCUs where new studies indicate we
do the best job, as Brookings noted vaulting lowest-income kids into the
top quintile as adults.

Pell is a vehicle to prevent hallucinations of opportunity, while helping to
fuel HBCUs, engines of social and economic mobility driving families toward
the American dream.

Cherie S. White
Cherie S. White
Cherie S. White is Director of Digital Strategy for the Tom Joyner Foundation, a writer and editor.