President Barack Obama is under fire for cutting 85 million dollars in “extra” funding from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). According to the Associated Press, President Obama’s education budget included major spending increases, but didn’t include an extra $85 million that black institutions have received annually for the past two years because of a 2007 change to the student loan laws.
Folks are up-in-arms about this slap in the face to HBCUs, suggesting that President Barack Obama should support institutions whose funding has historically been poor in spite of recent high-profile cases of financial mismanagement (Texas Southern University, Morris Brown, Benedict College and Barber-Scotia), scandalous partnerships (Bishop Eddie Long’s “unauthorizedl” NCCU satellite campus operating in Atlanta) and low graduation rates (only 37% graduate within a 6-year academic period).
As someone who taught at an HBCU for 5 years, I understand the peculiar challenges facing HBCUs, which is why the funding is needed. Many of these schools have been operating on shoestring budgets for years and need all of the financial support that they can get. HBCUs give many students that society has either thrown away or given up on an opportunity to pursue a higher education, which reflects the mission of most of these colleges and universities. More academic preparatory resources are needed at some HBCUs.
Having said that, many HBCUs are poorly run and it is no longer a secret. Many were built on a church model because missionaries founded the schools. Because of this, there is a top-down style of management in place, which is not necessarily, the best management model for academic environments, particularly in this day and age. Consequently, you have a lot of power in the hands of few, so when bad decisions are made, they are far reaching.
As I have written before, HBCUs cannot continue to count on the government for funding. In December of last year, a Georgia State Senator suggested that an HBCU consider joining with a majority institution in order to streamline government costs. Black folks went berserk. We can’t keep asking the government for money, rebuffing attempts at lowering costs, and telling them to mind their business on top it. With endowments that pale in comparison to mainstream universities, HBCU administrators continue to be the highest paid administrators in the country. Conventional wisdom would suggest that something has to change, and if it doesn’t, funding directly to the universities will decrease and eventually some HBCUs will be forced to merge with mainstream universities in order to survive or fold.
While people are all over President Obama’s case about this, as they should be, they need to look at the bigger picture. While I do not pretend to be a conspiracy theorist, it is clear to me that there is a plan to drastically reduce the number of HBCUs, if not to eliminate them all together, that seems to be at work. Maybe some HBCUs, located within a 2 mi radius of each other, should consider merging and pooling their resources and power to fight against what is certainly coming? Maybe we should spend less on show and more on substance? Imagine what could happen if all of the folks that attend Homecoming events, alumni/alumnae functions and sporting events (CIAA and MEAC) took 50% of what they would normally spend during the course of that weekend on entertainment and donated it to their respective institutions? HBCUs probably wouldn’t need this money – they might want it—but they would not necessarily need it because they would have it.
Which leads me squarely back to President Obama who insists on letting it be known that he is not checking for Black folks during his presidential tenure. A few weeks ago he gave “back pay” to Philippino WWII Veterans, which he should have done, in spite of adamantly stating that he would never support reparations for Blacks. Now, he’s cutting funding for HBCUs (and Native American tribal colleges/universities), while increasing funding for Latino Universities, which he should absolutely do – increase money for Latino institutions. As I have stated before, I do not believe that Blacks should be made to pay because our President looks like us. It is shameful that a Republican president like Bush, recognized the economic need of HBCUs, while President Obama ignores it. Bush’s interest may have had to do with the fact that some powerful HBCUs are run by staunch Republicans (Presidents and Board Members), but the fact is that the money was made available. Blacks should be treated equally and not made to suffer because of what it might look like to non-blacks. Shame on President Obama for cutting funds to HBCUs and shame on Obama for continuing to make an example out of us, while allowing others to run amok.
One could argue that HBCUs should have planned ahead, which is true. While the government is giving out billions to rogue corporate CEOs and poorly run corporations and other ethnic institutions, the government could have floated $85 million to HBCUs (there are 101 of them), which collectively graduate the highest number of African-American students in the country. It might take 6 years, but they’ll graduate (that’s another article). Since I’m arguing for fairness, I should mention that Obama’s plan did increase the amount of Pell grants and the amount of money to students, overturning a Bush Administration decision that negatively impacted many students, particularly students of color. President Obama wants to give the money directly to the students, while President Bush gave the money directly to the institutions. There should be a happy medium somewhere in there.
Whatever happens, HBCUs need to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee. The writing is on the wall and HBCUs are under fire. If you cannot count on a Black president to look out for you, whom can you count on? Yourself. HBCUs and Black folks need to be proactive and strategically map out a plan to make sure that HBCUs are here to serve the needs of our community now and in the future.