There is a sense among many presidents at historically black colleges and universities that the Trump Administration, while not overly friendly to HBCUs by initiative or policy, has been a salve against what many expected would happen in a fury of budget cuts and racism-driven reforms.
Over the course of 2017, funding lines with important ties to HBCUs were largely preserved against reductions in the Department of Education’s budget. HBCU-specific programs like Title III and the HBCU Capital Financing Program (led by HBCU alumna and co-founder of the bipartisan HBCU Caucus Rep. Alma Adams) were elevated for review of application, approval and performance standards, with changes or talks of changes tied directly to outreach from advocacy groups.
The administration plowed ahead with proposed regulatory reforms in post-graduate employment and degree progress rules which were installed by the Obama Administration to limit harm done by for-profit colleges and universities but stood to harm historically black colleges which largely serve similar student profiles.
It may not have been pretty or convenient for the liberal foundation which surrounds historically black college communities. They didn’t get extra money, they didn’t get the sweeping sea change of support that Trump promised in the early days of his administration, but they weren’t outright destroyed. And in many ways, Democrats and Republicans got the message that preserving HBCUs would be an important talking point for the 2018 mid-terms, as is now evident from the flurry of legislative HBCU namechecking being done on Capitol Hil in recent months.
But now former White House strategist Steve Bannon and President Donald Trump are feuding, with revelations on executive chaos hitting Washington harder than a winter bomb cyclone.
All of this follows the departure of Omarosa Manigault Newman, the view of whom may not have been favorable inside or outside of the White House during or after her tenure, but who did view HBCUs as the biggest part of her portfolio and was a daily reminder by way of her brown-skinned feminity in the nearly all-white male White House that black people were waiting for something from this administration, and the best place for it to start was with black colleges.
Now the infamously distractable president and the legion of leakers that surrounds him have the ultimate test in front of them; try to normalize an abnormal presidency with a new storyline that is weirder than the rest we’ve seen over the last year – Steve Bannon is burning down the house. The same Steve Bannon who used white nationalism and Roy Moore as a play-action fake to enact unpopular tax reform, and the same Steve Bannon who believes black folks have been getting a raw deal from the American government for generations.
None of it makes sense, and at the same time it all makes sense. Create chaos with the threat of populism creeping into American democracy, while enacting conservative policies that will be impossible to reverse. And once those policies are in, get rid of Donald Trump under the guise of collusion with Russia, money laundering, or some other pseudo high crime against America.
It appears that the time on the Trump Administration may be running out, and that Bannon and certain Republicans long ago set 2018 as the year of expiration for the Trump Experiment. It appears that judicial appointments, tax reform, military spending, and infrastructure will be all that Trump was needed to get through before he is kicked out of Washington and potentially into infamy as the most unpopular and controversial president in American history.
But before he goes, the hope is that someone of consequence within the GOP should ask why HBCUs can’t be elevated on the checklist of ‘things to do before we get rid of Trump.’ If the party expects a blue wave in 2018 and beyond, why not capitalize on the reality that Democrats have taken virtually no advantage of the Bannon-Trump racial divide with substantive policy discussion, especially since Republicans have correctly begun increasing their overtures to HBCUs?
This could be the time for the GOP, in concert with the White House Initiative on HBCUs, to design the future of black colleges and to earn attention from their communities on issues already in focus, such as redefining credit hours and what that means for student affordability. Why not reign in Republican state lawmakers and governors who are choking the life out of HBCUs in states like Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina and Missouri with budget cuts, program duplication and other tools of HBCU destruction, and replace them with incentives for student attendance and completion at black colleges?
Maybe it comes in the form of partial loan forgiveness, lower interest rates or more discretionary funding for programs of HBCU strength, such as science and technology, public health, criminal justice, social work, education and agriculture. Maybe there are additional federal funds going to states which help their public HBCUs to increase enrollment over a two-year period, or rules which reward partnerships between for-profit institutions and HBCUs which create dual degree programs for students pursuing majors that meet specific state industrial needs.
There are options which wouldn’t cost billions in guaranteed money without performance, which could significantly bolster HBCU communities, and which could make black colleges competitive for years to come – while making the Republican party more attractive to America’s growing black voter bloc in the years which will follow Trump’s exit, which will likely be insanely unkind to the GOP.
The Trump HBCU Agenda has worked quietly for more than a year, but if things are about to get loud around the administration’s controversial missteps, HBCUs can’t afford to be drowned out in the noise.