A few months ago, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) was proud to welcome the presidents and chancellors from 30 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly Black institutions (PBIs) to Washington, D.C. for the second annual HBCU Fly-In held in conjunction with the leadership of Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., members of the very important, bipartisan HBCU Caucus.
My experience as a former HBCU president and now leader of TMCF, working on behalf of our 47 publicly supported HBCUs, gives me a broad perspective on the federal government’s partnership with HBCUs, as delivered through this event’s multiple listening sessions and direct engagement opportunities with members of Congress and senior leadership within the Trump administration.
Thanks to the commitment of dozens of our HBCU presidents and chancellors who attended our inaugural convening and this year’s fly-in, we’re beginning to see major developments from several federal agencies looking to increase support for HBCUs and to create more opportunities for our scholars.
Thanks to our collective advocacy, several HBCUs that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 received total forgiveness of outstanding loans awarded for the restoration of their campuses in the hurricane’s aftermath. Southern University at New Orleans, Dillard University, Xavier University and Tougaloo College are free of their repayment obligations on more than $300 million in federal loans because of direct engagement with and action from this administration. and congressional leadership on such issues of critical importance to our HBCU’s.
Perhaps the most significant indicator of our growing partnership has been the achievement of level funding in the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal and within the recent omnibus appropriations bills. For example, the fiscal year omnibus appropriations bill had major wins for HBCUs with increases from 2017 to 2018:
· The Pell Grant maximum award per student was increased from $5,920 to $6,095, a 2.96 percent hike.
· The Title III parts B and F funding level to strengthen HBCU undergraduate programs was increased from $244.6 million to $279.6 million, a 14.3 percent increase.
· The Title III part B funding to strengthen HBCU graduate programs was increased from $63.2 million to $72.3 million, a 14.3 percent increase.
· The Title III part A funding to strengthen a program for PBIs was increased from $9.9 million to $11.3 million, a 14.3 percent increase.
· The Title VII funding for master’s degree programs at HBCUs and PBIs was increased from $7.5 million to $8.5 million, also a 14.3 percent increase.
We are cognizant that many lawmakers in the majority in Congress favor fiscal austerity to address budgetary issues, but in a legislative environment dominated by talks of budget cuts, critical HBCU funding lines were increased, a demonstrable return on our collective investment in bipartisan engagement.
Indeed, TMCF’s decision not to resist – but instead engage in a strategic way and bipartisan fashion on behalf of our nearly 300,000 HBCU students who need a voice in Congress and with the Trump administration – has borne fruit at many levels. I am optimistic that many of our presidents and chancellors departed the nation’s capital with a clearer sense of the propriety of this strategy given our mutual goals, now having the benefit to witness the rewards of this advocacy effort.
TMCF will not stop engaging with all of our federal partners, because bipartisan advocacy with the Congress and engagement with the Trump administration is paying dividends for our nation’s HBCUs.
Dr. Harry L. Williams is president& CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
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