Trump signed the executive order after meetings with HBCU presidents and Republican lawmakers earlier this week.
PHOTO COURTESY OF COLORLINES.COM
By K. BARRETT BILALI
Special for South Florida Times
WASHINGTON – Tucked within the 2018 Omnibus budget is increased federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs.
Nearly $280 million will be spent on construction and infrastructure projects and financial aid for the nearly 250,000 students served by black colleges nationwide. The bill raised the allocation to HCBUs by 14 percent.
The $1.3 trillion Omnibus bill passed in the House by a 256-167 vote and later passed the Senate. President Trump threatened to veto the legislation but later decided to sign it on Friday.
“I’m thrilled to see the critical resources for HBCUs that our coalition advocated for, such as the expansion of the capital financing program, included in the 2018 omnibus,” said Congresswoman Alma Adams, a Democrat from North Carolina who voted for the bill. Adams also serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus.
“With this funding, House Democrats are proud to deliver on that promise at HBCUs, from campus infrastructure to improving the purchasing power of Pell Grants. Ensuring the long-term security and stability of these historic institutions as engines of opportunity will help put a meaningful degree within reach for every man and woman.” said Adams in a statement.
Students in the four historically black colleges and universities in Florida -Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, Edward Waters College in Jacksonville and Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach — will directly benefit from the increased funding.
Last May, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was booed during a commencement speech as a guest at Bethune Cookman University after describing HBCUs as “pioneers of school choice” in a public forum four months earlier.
DeVos would later meet privately with officials at Bethune-Cookman University and Florida A&M University to develop a better dialogue on the administration commitment to African-American education issues. The meeting was kept private but local church leaders and Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla were reportedly in attendance.
Bethune-Cookman is reportedly struggling financially but still active in educating local residents and providing activism in the community. Their lobbying efforts last month influenced the Florida House of Representatives to include a statue of their founder, Mary McLeod Bethune, in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. The historically black college was started by Bethune, an educator and civil rights activist, as a training school for girls in 1904.
Bethune-Cookman University may be able to benefit from increased funding to the HBCU Capital Financing Program which allows schools to apply for loan deferments.
President Trump met last year with nearly 100 educational leaders within the African-American community pledging “unwavering support” for historically black colleges.
At the time, Trump signed an executive order to “strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to provide the highest-quality education and provide equitable opportunities for HBCUs to participate in Federal programs.”
The order also established a 25-member Presidential advisory board to keep a good line of communication between the White House and HBCUs.
“There’s no real effort that we see,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who openly criticized the President’s efforts. “His meeting with HBCU presidents, for the most part, was a photo op that did not generate any substantive legislation or financial benefits to those colleges and universities.”
Trump was also criticized for delaying the naming of an executive director to administer the advisory group. Educational consultant Johnathan Holifield, who did not attend a HBCU school, was named the executive director of the President’s initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities a few months later.
Florida students wanting to attend a historically-black college or university will benefit from more funding for Pell Grants. TRIO and GEAR programs, which provide greater outreach for low-income or disadvantaged students, will also see funding increases.