HBCU Conference Attempts Reconciliation, But Outlook Remains Bleak For Pro-HBCU Policy

The national HBCU Conference closed its final day in Washington D.C. yesterday, with lingering doubt from presidents and supporters of Black college about the Department of Education’s willingness to respect and react to the problems facing HBCUs.

From its opening moments, the Conference felt like a forced show of collaboration between two estranged business partners. President Barack Obama, who was in the region promoting new health care options, was a notable no-show at the first conference since presidents and members of Congress cried out for reprieve from the administration’s dramatic changes to a vital lending program for HBCU students.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was on hand to set a tone of uneasy reconciliation, apologizing for the lack of communication with HBCU leadership about the changes, the latest of his earnest attempts, as described by some presidents, to build trust between the Department and HBCU leaders. In return, Hampton University President and White House Advisory Board on HBCUs Chairman William Harvey, affirmed a cautious Black college presidential consensus towards the DOE’s peace-offering, but watchful for its handling of existing problems.

Mounting deficits caused by PLUS loan eligibility changes enacted in 2011 continue to be the top priority for many HBCU presidents and chancellors. Leadership from the HBCU advocacy organizations have repeatedly asked for guidance documentation, and restoration of the PLUS loan program to pre-2011 eligibility standards.

But sources within the Department of Education say that the standards are unlikely to be amended, and that a proposed college scorecard, with metrics which may prove destructive to HBCUs, may also be here to stay. For HBCUs, already working to write new rules in recruitment and marketing against rising college costs, broadened college options and dwindling public funding, the effort appears to be a lost cause.

Some presidents hold hope for the new WHI-HBCU leadership tandem of Cooper and Ivory Toldson, the deputy director of the initiative. Through Toldson, a former senior research analyst with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and nationally respected voice on matters of education for African-Americans,  many believe a compelling case for HBCU necessity will be made with proper data and perspectives on graduation rates, socioeconomic influences, and the learning and social outreach capacity which HBCUs uniquely, and almost exclusively, provide to the nation.

Many believe that consistent interface with federal agencies, follow up on grant opportunities, and reporting of HBCU appropriations will be renewed under Cooper, and will reverse poor relationship management, backroom advocacy for HBCU funding cuts and communicative negligence left by John Silvanus Wilson, former WHI-HBCU executive director and current Morehouse president, who also was noticeably absent from the conference.

But no amount of good vibes about the leadership can replace the $193 million lost over the last year in PLUS loan denials, and more than $350 million in total losses when combined with shortfalls in grants and contracts from federal agencies. When added to President Obama’s unwillingness to meet with HBCU leaders about the impasse over what legally can be done to solve the PLUS loan massacre of 2013, and what morally should be done to keep HBCUs solvent, prospects for a productive relationship appear grim.

The Obama administration has dug in its heels on the necessity for financial right-sizing and accountability in its lending programs, and while apologetic, remains non-committal to making exemptions for the nation’s Black colleges and minority serving institutions with a legacy of open access and the good and bad which accompanies the mission.

The national conference closed today with many laughs and smiles, promises made and skepticism at an all time high. So how much longer will the charade of partnership and the effort to overcome its hollow and frustrating impact remain worth it to Black colleges and their leaders?

  • Michael

    Re: Dr. Charles;

    Your entire response is nothing more than a perpetual stream of talking points from the neoliberal and corporatist President Obama. Case in point, you’re have manage to incorporate military concepts (i.e., Green Zone[now called the International Zone] and the Red Zone[the unsafe areas in Iraq]) within the parameters of higher education which is problematic. Further, since you so proudly stated that you were in attendance of the “White House Initiative on HCBUs national conference”, I would like to know did you mention that HBCUs would lose and estimated $150million in expected revenue or have literally begged for the “restoration of the old rules on college loans”but to no avail”(Dixon, 2013).

    Here’s a cliff note of history for you, from 1945-2008, the Black community always made demands on the President regardless of political party. Since 2008, the so-called Black community managed to have a brain aneurysm and pathetically remained silent in critically analyzing Obama’s policy and their impact on the Black community. What I would suggest for you and other similar thinking Blacks to remember that no one person is above the collective interest of the entire group. Yes, this includes even if the POTUS phenotype is visually detected or aligned with as being Black. As the great South African Freedom Fighter Steve Biko stated, “Black is not just a pigmentation, but, a consciousness”.

    La paix

  • Curtis B. Charles, Ph.D.

    Let’s Sweep Around Our Own Doors, before Sweeping Around the President’s

    It is not becoming of senior leaders of our national organizational and supporters our HBCUs to continually complain about the unfair distribution of resources to our institutions receive – this has been the case since 1890. These leaders should roll up their sleeves, and create enterprising and innovative solutions to the challenges facing HBCUs, of sit down. Since 1890, enterprising Presidents and Chancellors have led our institutions with distinction in the face of conditions that parallels today’s.
    Let’s sweep around our own doors before sweeping around the President’s!

    One of the first things that the President did when he came into Office was to fight for Title III funding which was on the chopping block. So, let’s ask ourselves the following questions: Almost five years later, “Did our institution use this Title III funding (included as Law of the Land in the 1965 Higher Education Act to build institutional capacity of HBCUs) to improve student recruitment, retention, progression, and graduation rates? For the non-academic affairs activities supported by Title III, “Has our institutions used this federal funding to become more effective and efficient?” “Has our institutions used this Title III funding to develop predictive analysis systems to make data-driven decisions – developing student learning outcomes for each course and academic program; using the assessment assessing these outcomes; and using the results for continuous improvements?”

    Let’s STOP complaining and START solving the contemporary challenges of the HBCUs – while we still have some time. If our institutional leaders are not solving the “RED ZONE” challenges that plagues HBCUs like developing academic offerings to addresses the compelling national workforce challenges of today and the future – Cybersecurity, Nano-composite Engineering, Roboticists, Quantum Biology, Medical Mathematics and other such futuristic roles – do not blame the President. Instead, let’s intelligently articulate the “Value Proposition” of our institutions to attract the students we desire who will raise enrollment. For example, all of our HBCUs should have prepared systems and academic offerings to recruit the largest number of veterans (many, with clearances) returning from war.

    By the end of 2013, 30,000 scientist and engineers will be retiring from the Department of Defense civilian workforce. By 2020, that retirement number will increase to 60,000. I put on my entrepreneurship hat, and say, “that’s a great market opportunity for our HBCU students, for female and minorities are in greatest need to fill these STEM workforce needs.

    A pep speech by the President at the conference – though encouraging – will not change the “Wicked” challenges facing HBCUs. Emotionalism and a culture of entitlement will not save our institutions – Innovative, enterprising leadership will. The President can only facilitate. It is up to US – you, I, and the supporters and leaders of HCBUs to solve these “Wicked” challenges. We have to understand that “the House has been on fire, for a very long time, and the Calvary has not shown any indication that it’s coming.”

    I also attended the White House Initiative on HCBUs national conference, and each year I attend, I am always amazed that we do everything conceivable to avoid dealing with the elephant on the room – “the #1HBCU Red Zone challenge: that the average 4-year graduation rate of all of the HBCUs in attendance is less than 20%, and retention rates hovering struggling to clime to 70%. I am always struck that with all that (Ph.D.) brain-power in attendance, the conference is not singularly focused on student retention, progression and graduation. Although the “Green Zone” topics of the conference are wonderful, the extremely low graduation and retention rates are like a tombstone around the necks of our institutions.
    So if it’s not going to occur during the conference, our HBCUs can begin by disaggregating the retention and graduation rates by disciplines, and use the results the make data-driven improvements, while simultaneously providing the support and training for faculty and staff members who will be implementing these changes.

    Though our HBCUs are challenged on all sides – I returned from this year’s conference encouraged that enterprising and innovative leadership will solve the “Wicked RED ZONE” challenges facing our institutions, while ushering in a new era of “GREEN ZONE” initiatives that will transform our Universities into competitive 21st Century institutions of choice.

  • Sean

    HBCUs got “raw dogged” by this administration, just plain and simple!