As if we needed any more evidence, President Obama’s recent meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus revealed a deep-seated hostility toward the plight of struggling Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
According to Lauren Victoria Burke’s Black Caucus blog, CrewOf42.com, “President Obama was critical of Historically Black Colleges and Universities during a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus this week according to several in attendance. The February 10 meeting was the first group gathering with the Black Caucus and the President since June 2013.”
It continued, “Several who attended the meeting indicated that President Obama felt that the focus of HBCU’s needs to be on the schools changing their ways of doing business rather [than] on changes in federal policy. Those who attended said he was specifically critical of graduation rates and loan policies. The President also spoke to CBC members on his free community college plan which some HBCU advocates believe will hurt HBCUs.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, told Burke, “He [Obama] said there were some HBCUs that were not good at graduating students and if they did not improve they’d have to go by the wayside. In other words he didn’t show much empathy for struggling HBCUs. It was like show me the numbers and if the numbers aren’t where they need to be, that’s it. It was a somewhat callous view of the unique niche HBCUs fill.”
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) said, “I was concerned about what the President said because it feeds into a narrative about the value of these institutions and whether they are [equipped] to educate our students and what the cost is for doing so.
“Many of these institutions have not had a maintenance of effort on the part of states or the federal government and over time that wears on their ability to maintain standards or even advance beyond a certain level. It was very clear that he doesn’t have the same level of appreciation for what these institutions have done and could do in the future given the right support systems.”
The blog quoted Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a graduate of South Carolina State University: “it’s for-profit schools where the graduation rate problem is – not HBCUs, the Parent PLUS loan stuff has to do with new rules on credit worthiness and I just think that in the discussion he mangled it.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a product of two HBCUs – Tougaloo College and Jackson State University – was quoted: “What we ought to be talking about is: If there are weaknesses at certain HBCUs what do we do to strengthen those institutions?”
Meanwhile, Hampton University President William R. Harvey, who has been chair of the White House Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities since 2010, was highly critical of Obama’s approach to HBCUs.
In a speech at a meeting at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C. on Feb. 4, Harvey said, “I have to say that one of my biggest concerns or regrets is that we are not being used as the advisory board we are supposed to be. All this expertise – more than 150 years at the helm of HBCUs, decades as the heads of major philanthropic organizations, expertise in business, in fundraising and in public relations, connections on Wall Street, in the Ivy League and everywhere else. Yet, we are not consulted when it comes to policy changes and decisions impacting – in a major way – the institutions on whose behalf we are to advocate.
“It happened with Pell. It happened with Parent Plus. And, now it is happening with the new community college initiative.”
Harvey was also critical of Obama’s proposed college rating system and his plan to fund the first two years of education at community colleges.
“Many of my colleagues have called me to say that the ‘free tuition for public community college’ initiative could also be a death knell for many of our institutions…” Harvey said.
Judging by Harvey’s comments, many of the debacles could have been avoided if the White House had sought the advice of HBCU experts it had recruited as advisers.
An even stronger indictment was Harvey’s summary of what has happened to HBCUs under the nation’s first Black president.
He stated. “While we don’t know a lot, because a lot is not shared, we do know that federal support for HBCUs is showing an alarming downward trend. Over the last several years, all of the major Title IV programs had modifications and adjustments which make it much harder for HBCUs to get funding. We all know of the Parent PLUS debacle. These loans to our students are down. Pell grants to students at HBCUs are down. Direct loans to our students are down. Graduate subsidies have been eliminated. In addition to student support, overall support to Black colleges is down.”
That’s not a compliment for a president who says he wants to increase educational opportunities for all Americans.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.