A capstone to this month’s inaugural HBCU Braintrust summit organized by HBCU alumna Congresswoman Alma Adams was the announcement of eight new members to the federal HBCU Caucus.
The group designed to advance policy and awareness of historically black colleges and universities on Capitol Hill welcomed Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), David Perdue (R-GA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tim Kaine (D-VA) to its ranks. And the hope is that the added legislative brand power advances stronger advocacy for Department of Education policy benefiting black colleges.
But what will that stronger advocacy look like? We know that the HBCU Caucus strongly supports increases for Pell Grants, money for high school prep and college bridge programs like TRIO and GEAR-UP, student loan programs like Federal Work Study, and finance reform for HBCU capital projects and interest rates on student loan repayment.
Those issues are critical for HBCUs. But HBCUs and their supporters need more details on how these issues, and others, can be realized in a federal government which will soon be defined by cuts and reductions to higher education spending programs.
It is one thing to say that HBCUs need more money, but another to offer details on the best places to find it. Will bipartisanship for HBCUs include block grants attached to legislation involving building a wall or border security? Will support for public health crises like opioid addiction and treatment and disaster recovery include spending for HBCU public health, nursing and agricultural programs?
Could enhanced military spending result in additional resources for HBCU programs in military science, homeland security, and computer science with cybersecurity tracks?
Most importantly, if these or any funds can be found for HBCUs, will they have to be shared with minority serving institutions, which in some cases can be large predominantly white institutions with high enrollment rates of Hispanic and other international student groups?
We need our alumni and advocates on Capitol Hill to communicate publicly to HBCU communities how we can support their efforts. We are the soldiers who, armed with data and narrative, can create the attention around the importance of HBCU advocacy at state and federal legislative levels.
Without details, we wind up making the long-expired “support us because we’re black and you haven’t made good on equity” asks, which in 2017 and in a rising wave of conservative power in the country just won’t be enough to get funding.
The HBCU Caucus and its membership have interest, attention and intention in HBCUs. But they can’t afford the usual politics of small-funding wins or initiatives which build awareness of our schools and their prospects. The public conversation on the nuance of federal and state funding lines, HBCU strengths and opportunities will be key if they hope to make good on promises, and to keep these schools growing, and in some cases open for business.