A looming expiration date for several federal programs may prove to be the next frontier of HBCU advocacy for presidents, students and alumni nationwide, as student loans and agricultural initiatives may be vulnerable to deep cuts in the upcoming federal budget.
POLITICO reports this week about the fading prospects for congressional reauthorization of the Perkins program, which could be part of several cost-cutting initiatives outlined in upcoming tax reform efforts aiming to slash $20 billion from federal spending.
That could open the door for lawmakers to make changes to student aid programs that Republicans and the Trump administration have proposed — such as consolidating income-based repayment programs, eliminating subsidized loans, ending loan forgiveness for public servants, or shifting the mandatory funding component of the Pell grant program to the discretion of annual appropriators. The House hasn’t even passed the budget resolution yet, so it’s too early to say how this will shake out. But it’s worth noting that one of the biggest student loan changes in recent years — Obama’s shift to make all federal student loans disbursed directly by the government — happened through the reconciliation process.
In a letter written to House higher education and workforce committee members in March of this year, United Negro College Fund President and CEO Michael Lomax described the urgency for Congress to support loan program reauthorization as a means to preserve prospects of success for thousands of HBCU students, along with avoiding massive disruption and to black institutions.
The federal student aid process must be strengthened, streamlined, and simplified to maximize its effectiveness. However, streamlining and simplifying federal student aid should not mean cutting back on vital federal assistance for the most vulnerable students who need the most help.
Also up for expiration is the current Farm Bill, which if reauthorized would grant a five-year outline on spending opportunities for land-grant HBCUs, and black colleges with academic programs with nutrition or farming research and science.
Jim Bogart, President and General Counsel of Central California’s Grower-Shipper Association, wrote in a local op-ed about the importance of the Farm Bill’s renewal, and opportunities for expansion in agricultural training, crop research, rural development and cooperative extension.
There appears to be an inability or, I would argue, an unwillingness for everyone to throw partisan politics and ideological agendas aside and work together to solve serious problems. It absolutely permeates the atmosphere and makes the ability to address and overcome the many and complex challenges facing agriculture today all the more difficult.
I believe we have three options available to us as we tackle these tough issues, including but not limited to: the farm labor shortage and immigration reform, the next Farm Bill, water, food safety, crop protection and nutrition policy. We can resist. We can ignore. Or we can engage.
GSA’s strategy for almost ninety years has been to engage – and that is what we and more than 500 of our agricultural colleagues intend to do next month.
These are just two of the many areas Congress will be examining in the next few months. And while there is legitimate debate taking place about the value of holding or postponing the annual White House HBCU Conference, major issues the conference would have been designed to address are seemingly being ignored by the HBCU community.
The academic year has just started, but HBCU students and alumni should be on high alert for lobbying state and federal officials for support of these key funding areas. In any iteration of a convening of HBCU thought leaders, elected officials and their staffers must begin the serious work of crafting meaningful agenda for discussion, and presidents must be serious about attending to meet with representatives about opportunities for partnership.
Partisanship, gamesmanship, and a lack of insight is only going to harm HBCU students and institutions – if the HBCU community doesn’t develop a stronger presence on Capitol Hill for these and other issues, Republicans and Democrats will be free to support or ignore the community as their own political fortunes may dictate.
No, every elected official will not take every opportunity to discuss every complaint, suggestion or viewpoint on HBCUs, but HBCU stakeholders being more regularly seen in Washington creates the chance for dialog, while absence all but suggests that there is no need for the same.
HBCU leaders and advocates have 22 days to decide if their careers and convenience are worth the survival of their schools. The clock is ticking.