Black college funding hopes dwindle amid federal budget battle
Optimism for transformational funding for the nation’s historically black colleges was high after the Biden administration included $ 45 billion for schools in its massive multibillion-dollar spending plan.
That prospect quickly deteriorated as funding got trapped in internal Democrats’ wrangling over the size of the economic package and what it should cover. The latest version of the bill includes only $ 2 billion that can be spent on educational programs and black college infrastructure, and even that amount would be reduced to competitive grants rather than direct allocations.
This is particularly disappointing for many small, historically black private colleges that lack the endowments of their larger and more well-known peers. They often struggle to modernize their campuses and programs, hampering their ability to attract students.
The Biden administration’s initial $ 3.5 trillion proposal called for sending at least $ 45 billion to black colleges and other institutions serving minorities to update their research agendas, create incubators for help students innovate and help traditionally underserved populations.
Getting a share of that would have been a godsend for Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, a historically black private college. President Roderick L. Smothers said federal coronavirus relief money helped the university survive the pandemic with technology upgrades and student support, but he said the original proposal de Biden was providing the kind of money that would have had a long-term impact.
“We have used the funds we have received to serve the students we have, and now we are asking for additional funds to ensure that when we are on the other side of this global pandemic, our institutions will be bigger, better and better. more resilient. “said Smothers.
The college increased its enrollment by 43% between 2010 and 2019, the latest data available, but saw its endowment drop 18% during the same period, according to federal data analyzed by the Associated Press. Overall, enrollments at the nation’s roughly 102 black colleges declined from 326,827 in 2010 to 289,507 in 2019.
Beyond building improvements, Smothers said Philander Smith College has used long-term federal funding to expand programs for its students, 81% of whom are low-income. This could include launching a school of public health that would train students to tackle health disparities affecting racial minorities and help address the state’s nursing shortage.
Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, who heads the United States House Education Committee, said historically black colleges have received unprecedented levels of federal funding over the past two years, more than they have in the past decade combined. That includes $ 1.6 billion as part of the Democrats’ US bailout passed earlier this year.
The money allowed them to pursue initiatives such as canceling student debt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the bill also included $ 27 billion for student aid at black colleges and other institutions serving racial minorities. Yet he recognized the need for more funding.
“We would love to do whatever we can,” Scott said. “I am not satisfied. I am not satisfied with anything in the budget that is within our purview.”
Scott said the Education Department is committed to ensuring that the grant program contained in the current bill is structured so that similar colleges compete against each other. It’s a way to prevent large schools with strong grant writing departments from supplanting small schools.
This is important in order to resolve the big differences between the colleges. The Associated Press’s analysis of enrollment and staffing data found large disparities between the 102 historically black colleges and universities, as well as an additional divide between private and public institutions. Federal data, for example, showed that 11 HBCUs had endowments worth less than $ 1,000 per student in the 2018-19 school year, while nine had endowments worth more than $ 50. $ 000 per student.
In general, black colleges do not have the funding capacity of other universities. The cumulative endowment of all historic black colleges through 2019 was just over $ 3.9 billion, roughly the same endowment as that of the University of Minnesota. Advocates said funding challenges and the role colleges have historically played are why long-term federal aid is needed.
Harry L. Williams, chairman of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents the public HBCUs, was surprised and disappointed by the reduced allocation for black colleges in the latest Democratic economic plan, which will likely be cut to around $ 2 trillion . He also said they should not be lumped together with other institutions serving racial minorities, which he said may include many large state universities.
Black colleges have a unique history, financial needs and challenges, Williams said.
Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville, agrees.
“Mixing them with institutions serving minorities, which are not historical institutions that do not have a legacy of historical discrimination, is not fair,” he said. “Historically black colleges and universities should be separated as a protected class of institutions because, like the black community, our experience in the United States of America is a unique one.”
Due to historic underfunding, black colleges have often accumulated years of deferred maintenance, leaving buildings out of compliance with local codes or unable to accommodate students. The money from endowment returns is earmarked for annual operating costs, making it more difficult to invest in new programs and buildings – a “number one problem” in attracting students, Cosby said.
Last spring, the Kentucky general assembly passed a long-awaited law that allowed its school to have a certified teacher program. The initiative is particularly important to Simmons due to the continuing shortage of teachers in the state and the school’s founding mission to train formerly enslaved Kentucky teachers. But Cosby said not having long-term funding from the federal government will make it harder for Simmons to get the program started quickly.
“We need space for facilities, we need infrastructure, we need capital improvements, we need resources to hire teachers,” he said. “We can only thrive as institutions as long as we have the resources to do so. “
Hudspeth Blackburn is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
Ma covers education and fairness for the Race and Ethnicity team at AP. Follow her on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/anniema15
Associated Press reporting on issues of race and ethnicity is supported in part by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.