Legislators in North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida have made headlines over the last two weeks for introducing or signing into law bills designed to help families more easily afford college.
These bills, not-so-coincidentally all happening at the same time, show a shared GOP philosophy about how to cut costs, stifle racial progress, and strong-arm land, property and votes all at the same time – even when black folks are fighting against it.
With HB2, North Carolina was willing to lose millions and to take international heat over legislating public bathroom use, just to hide the goal of putting a legislative vice grip on employee wage and discrimination claims. And the same is being done with SB873, which publicly intends to drop tuition costs at three HBCUs while working in tandem with the state’s program to force some students to community colleges – a recipe for a predictable, and almost instant, financial collapse of Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University.
Tennessee Promise, the impetus for President Barack Obama’s federal pitch for free tuition at community colleges nationwide, is another program designed to work in tandem with recently signed HB2578, which will give all schools outside of the University of Tennessee system board autonomy, but grants trustee appointing power to the governor.
Since gubernatorial appointees tend to do the will of the governor, and the governor has already emphasized community college as the ideal college option for Tennessee students, how far off are we from reduced capacity and advocacy for schools like Tennessee State University?
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott signed into law a new program which requires all state colleges and universities to publicly report their efforts to cut tuition and ancillary education costs, like textbooks and online degree offerings. But the same bill also authorizes the state’s Board of Governors to create an online learning institute, offering students a range of degree programs at all levels exclusively via distance learning.
But according to the eligibility standards of the bill, the only two institutions qualified for consideration to house the institute are the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Both schools, if allowed to offer a lion’s share of their programs online and at reduced costs, would decimate Florida A&M University, which would have to compete against larger, bigger branded state options with costs comparable to those offered at the flagship HBCU. When added to the BOG issuing new rules on presidential searches, and tightening its review and approval of potential candidates, their compensation package, and the assessment of their credentials, you have an assault on the ability for FAMU to attract a quality president, or to dramatically increase its enrollment in any given year.
Three different states, all with legitimate efforts to save college students money. But hidden within each of these plans is an agenda to marginalize or close black colleges, efforts which aren’t blatantly unconstitutional, but meet the aim of attracting black bodies and appropriations to predominantly white campuses.
Ideally, alumni of these schools we be consistently well-versed on the legislative action against our schools. But because our presidents don’t talk to students and alumni, black lawmakers are silenced on HBCU legislation, and black communities at large are not politically astute on issues until someone is shot dead in the streets or until the media reports on damage already done, we stand little chance in reversing this political tidal wave.
All we can hope for is that social media and expanding coverage of black issues in mainstream media helps us to pressure middle-aged white guys in legislative seats to wait a few more years until their next attempt at HBCU destruction.
But if HB2, and the mass activity of the GOP on higher education throughout southern states hasn’t convinced us that there may not be a next time, then we deserve everything that will be taken away from us.