HBCU advocates and supporters throughout Washington D.C. are head over heels in love with details from the recently-released Omnibus bill, which proposes significant increases for vital funding resources for historically black colleges and universities.
Here’s what some of the key players are saying about the bill which if it is signed to avoid a government shutdown by Friday night would increase Pell Grant funding for students, funding for research grants from the National Institutes of Health (a top federal funding agency for HBCUs) and a 14% overall increase in appropriations for HBCUs at large.
“Following the first ever HBCU STEAM Day of Action, I’m thrilled to see the critical resources for HBCUs that our coalition advocated for, such as the expansion of the capital financing program, included in the 2018 omnibus. This measure will ensure security for nearly a dozen HBCUs and the students they serve, including Bennett College in North Carolina, through expanded access to essential funding for campus infrastructure and student programs. I led the effort to include this change in the omnibus because, as a professor at Bennett College for 40 years, I witnessed first-hand the opportunities that HBCUs provide their students. I’m pleased that this bipartisan measure was included and I will continue to review the bill in its entirety to make certain that it is inclusive of our 12th District priorities.” – Congresswoman Alma Adams
“In providing a significant increase of $3 billion for NIH research, Congress is helping to ensure our nation develops new cures and better treatments for some of the most devastating illnesses and health problems facing the country. The notable funding increases for the Department of Energy Office of Science and ARPA-E, as well as the boosts for NSF and for the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, will support the proven formula of additional scientific research leading to new technologies and breakthroughs that power long-term U.S. economic growth and help keep our country safe and secure. And an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award combined with increases in Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants and Federal Work Study will help ensure more students can afford to attend college, earn a degree, and be prepared to succeed in the workforce. It is also positive to see language clarifying that, despite of the long-time ban on gun control research, it is ok for the government to fund research on the causes of gun violence.” – Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities President Peter McPherson
“Alabama’s fifteen Historically Black Colleges and Universities are integral to our world-class university system. Despite enrolling roughly 300,000 students each year nationwide, HBCUs have faced significant funding challenges, with some even forced to close their doors. These schools provide a path for so many first-generation college students, many of whom come from under-served backgrounds. I am proud that our efforts to increase federal support have been successful, and I will continue to advocate for these institutions that have done so much to help my constituents in Alabama and people across the country.” – Sen. Doug Jones
“HBCUs are critical to the foundation of our higher education system, and provide opportunities for some of the nation’s most promising and deserving students. I am pleased funds in this bipartisan budget agreement will be invested in the future of these young people. Ensuring HBCUs have the federal support and resources they need to thrive for generations to come is one of my top priorities as a proud HBCU graduate.” – Sen. Kamala Harris
The omnibus bill also counters several of the proposals sought by US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in her budget request, turning her $3.6 billion suggested cuts into $3.9 billion in spending increases, which includes additional funds for federal work study, educational opportunity grants and discretionary funding for loan forgiveness.
There are several ways to look at this budget bill, which most Washington insiders say President Donald Trump will likely sign. First, bipartisanship is warming the partisan freeze that has stalled Capitol Hill for the better part of two presidential administrations. Second, bipartisanship in policymaking is growing to accompany the bipartisan fatigue over the Trump administration and its growing list of scandals and agenda misfires.
But another way to look at this is as another section of the growing list of investments earned by HBCUs in what many projected to be an antagonistic White House. Many will say that this bill is the work of Congress, along with more than $300 million in forgiven loans to HBCUs nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, improvements to Title III oversight, and deregulation of harmful rules on students being able to sue schools for their lack of post-graduate success.
The truth is that any one of these HBCU success stories would’ve cemented President Barack Obama’s place as the nation’s greatest advocate for black colleges. He would’ve received credit for the work of Congress, lobbyists, White House staffers and others who draft policy, work phones and shake hands to make things happen in key legislation. And he would’ve deserved the credit because ultimately, it is the president who signs off on bills that become law, which become lifelines for HBCUs.
Obama did none of these things in eight years. Trump has done all of these things in less than two years. And while he deserves every bit of criticism for every racist remark, for every unpredictable tweet, for every half-baked policy approach, for every non-disclosure agreement broken and for every Russian connection unearthed by special investigators, hating the man for these things can and should be mutually exclusive to the recognition we give for the great things happening for black colleges under the most unlikely and undeserving president we’ve ever seen.