Secretary Of Education Miguel Cardona Discusses HBCU Week and the Student Loans Crisis

The Secretary reiterated the Biden Administration’s commitment to supporting HBCUs.

In 2021, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Cardona was confirmed by Congress to lead the Department of Education in service of the country’s 65 million students, from preschool to adult learners.

Since taking office, Cardona helped institutions safely reopen for in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic, worked to increase access and affordability to higher education, and is seeking to transform the country's student loan system. spoke with Secretary Cardona about HBCU Week in Washington D.C., how conservative governors are attempting to erase the history of race in public schools, and the challenge of addressing the student loan crisis.

BET: com. The Biden Administration has been a big advocate of HBCUs. Other than Vice-President Kamala Harris being an alumnus of Howard University, why has there been such a focal point on HBCUs by the administration?

Secretary Miguel Cardona: I’ve always said HBCUs punch above their weight and now we have an administration that really understands that. Obviously, with Vice President Kamala Harris being a graduate of Howard University, we not only want to see HBCUs succeed but they're important for our country to succeed. So the historic investments that we made over the last two and a half years, with over $7.3 billion so far, but equally as important in my opinion, is making sure they have a seat at the table. We need to hear what their specific needs are, and how this administration can continue to support them so they can continue to grow. Earlier this week, President Biden and Vice President Harris met his  Board of Advisors on HBCUs One of the issues that was talked about was how land-grant schools have been underfunded. How can the administration assist HBCUs in closing this funding gap?

Secretary Miguel Cardona: President Biden held that meeting with presidents of HBCUs as you saw in the Roosevelt Room, and they presented the President with a Five Point Plan that showed data for sustainability for HBCUs, what the needs are such as investments in infrastructure, investment in student support, and ensuring sustainability through ongoing funding.

It was a very well put together report and the President was eager to receive it. He had a robust conversation with the school presidents along with the Vice President. Outside of that meeting, we meet at least four times a year with leaders from HBCUs. We have a department, the White House initiative on HBCUs, that meets with college presidents and visits students regularly because we're committed. It's not just for photo ops, like the last president did. We’re committed to ensuring that we're helping build HBCUs.

Recently, Secretary Tom Vilsack from the USDA and I sent out a letter to governors that have HBCUs in their state saying that the under-investment in HBCUs should be revisited and addressed. So we're serious when we say we have a whole of government approach to making sure we support HBCUs. If you look at the Partners Act, you'll see the commitments from various other agencies. We’re committed to helping build them because they're building our country.

Biden Launches New Student Debt Repayment Plan In Wake Of Supreme Court Ruling With the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the President’s student loan forgiveness program, how is the administration planning to address the student loan crisis that disproportionately Black borrowers?

Secretary Miguel Cardona: There are barriers to the Supreme Court, barriers with our Republican colleagues on the hill, that are attempting to block everything we’re trying to do. We're not going to give up. The President is committed to ensuring we provide affordability and access to many more Americans, and many more people of color who have been left out of the opportunities that we know can help them move forward. So now we have the SAVE Plan to assist those with student loan debt.

One of the first things that I heard when I was preparing for the hearings for this job was that Black borrowers owe more money 12 years after they take out a loan, even though they were paying it because of the interest accrual. To me that's unacceptable. The SAVE Plan helps to open the door to higher education to more students by becoming an income-driven repayment plan, meaning if your salary is under $32,800, your monthly payment will be $0. Also, interest rates will be capped, so they won’t balloon out of control like they did in the past. So we're really proud of the SAVE Plan. We want to encourage everyone to fill out the 10-minute application and it could help reduce monthly payments for students interested in college.

White House: States Must Adequately Fund Land-Grant HBCUs Owed Nearly $13 Billion Across the country, we are seeing the rise of banning books by Black authors and several states led by conservative governors that are placing limits on how the history of race in America is taught in public schools. What are your thoughts on this trend?

Secretary Miguel Cardona: What was once done in the dark is finally coming to light. We have tended to erase Black history and Black contributions and they are targeted efforts to attack other marginalized groups in our country. We saw it a couple of years ago in Florida with the “Don't Say Gay Bill '' and we saw attacks on AP African American studies curriculum and then they had the nerve to say that there were benefits from slavery. Now, we're seeing other states follow suit. To me, they're more interested in banning books than in banning assault weapons that are killing our kids. That's lunacy. I'm all for a good debate about policies, but in this case, students and educators in Florida in particular, are at risk of discrimination just for being who they are. We have to stand up against that as a country. Lastly, you are currently on the road with the Vice President “Fight For Our Freedoms College Tour.” What are you hoping would be the result of the tour?

Secretary Miguel Cardona: This fight for freedom tour is really about reclaiming the fight for reproductive health care, to attend college, and unapologetically the freedom to vote. These are all things that are under attack. I applaud the President, and the Vice President for their efforts on these issues. I just love the engagement that she had with the students here, really just speaking from the heart as an HBCU alum herself, telling them how the world is theirs and the future is theirs, and that she's going to continue to fight for the things that they value.

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