Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have changed the college landscape and have provided a significant return on investment. Our country cannot reach its goals without strong, viable, sustainable HBCUs – goals necessary to close the education gap, health, wealth and economic gaps. HBCUs were founded to educate the newly freed slaves, and have fulfilled this mission with limited resources, discrimination in funding, and inadequate facilities.
At HBCUs we see Black excellence at its best. HBCUs have made enormous contributions, and in spite of finding a way to survive, the lack of funding has prevented many HBCUs from excelling at an even higher level. As president of Tennessee State University, I see first-hand the difficulties that HBCUs experience and the continuing, looming disparity in the educational gap.
The Build Back Better Act is significant legislation that proposes to invest in HBCUs, and reflects this Administration’s understanding of how important these investments are in helping HBCUs continue their central role in resolving many of the challenges that threaten the general welfare and prosperity of our country. The President and Vice President have provided historic support for HBCUs and invested in HBCUs at unprecedented levels. We must now work with Congress to pass the legislation that will more sustainably support HBCUs. These investments as detailed from the White House are described below:
- American Rescue Plan. The American Rescue Plan provided over $4 billion in relief funding to HBCUs, including approximately $1.6 billion in debt relief to 45 HBCUs (13 public institutions and 32 private institutions) earlier this year.
- FY 21 Grant Funding. In FY21, the Department of Education awarded a total of $1 billion to build the capacity of institutions that serve large numbers of students of color and low-income students. $500 million of this funding went directly to HBCUs.
- FY 22 Budget Request. The President’s FY22 budget requests a total of $887 million for HBCU-specific funding in Higher Education Act (HEA) Title III funds—an increase of $247 million over last year’s level. This would triple the mandatory Title III funding at the Department of Education— for a total of $252 million. Title III mandatory funds provide formula grants to all HBCUs to invest in capacity-building initiatives and student success programs. The President’s budget request includes funding for research opportunities at HBCUs, labs, IT infrastructure, workforce development programs in STEM, and DOJ funding for Violence Against Women Act programs at HBCUs, among other priorities.
- Teacher Quality Funding. Through the FY22 budget request and the Build Back Better plan, President Biden has proposed $60 million for the Augustus Hawkins Centers of Excellence Program to support teacher preparation programs at HBCUs and minority-serving institutions (MSIs).
Strengthening the White House Initiative on HBCUs
- In September, President Biden signed an Executive Order to re-establish the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through HBCUs and issued a proclamation recognizing National HBCU Week.
- The President’s Executive Order calls for a whole of government approach to support HBCUs in responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster HBCUs in a number of ways, including by breaking down barriers and improving access to Federal funding and other programs, particularly in areas of research and development.
- The Order specifically directs senior officials in the Executive Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President to consult and collaborate with the Initiative on policy priorities for HBCUs.
- Federal agencies must submit plans by February 1st of each year to describe how they are increasing HBCU access to Federal programs and improving Federal recruitment activities at HBCUs to build pathways to Federal employment.
- During HBCU week, President Biden also named Dr.Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University, as Chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. The Board, originally established by the Carter Administration, is meant to engage key stakeholders in fields such as education, business, and philanthropy to advance the goals of the HBCU Initiative.
Ensuring Continued Support for HBCUs through the Build Back Better Plan
- The President’s Build Back Better plan would provide tuition subsidies to students who attend HBCUs with a family income below $125,000. It would also provide free community college to students who attend one of the 11 HBCUs that are also community colleges.
- Build Back Better also includes a $5 billion increase in funding for HEA Title III and Title V, which can be used by HBCUs, Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and MSIs to strengthen their academic, administrative, and fiscal capabilities, including by creating or expanding educational programs in high-demand fields (e.g., STEM, computer sciences, nursing, and allied health). Build Back Better would direct an additional $2 billion toward building a pipeline of skilled health care workers with graduate degrees from HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs.
- Recognizing the historic underfunding of HBCUs and other institutions that serve large numbers of students of color, the President’s plan also would invest $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure, half which would be reserved for HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs.
- The President also proposed creating a new national lab focused on climate that would be affiliated with an HBCU.
In summary, the Build Back Better legislation is a game changer for HBCUs. We all must continue to work with Congress to pass this legislation as it would indeed Build Back Better HBCUs. We must ask Congress to reinforce the agenda of the President and Vice President to include the proper research funding to strengthen HBCUs, support the students they serve, address historic discrimination, and put HBCUs on equal footing with majority institutions.
Glenda Glover, Ph.D., JD, CPA, is President of Tennessee State University, and International President and CEO, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.