Investing in HBCUs Is Key to Our Future

Hillary Clinton op-ed on HBCUs.

If we want to restore the basic bargain of America — that if you work hard, you can get ahead — the most important step we can take is to produce more college graduates. The typical college graduate earns more than half a million dollars extra over the course of his or her life compared to a high school graduate, and the unemployment rate for college graduates is less than half what it is for high school graduates. The United States has made enormous progress over the last half-century in opening the doors of higher education to millions of Americans. Yet, there remains a persistent racial gap in who completes college. For students who enter college, white students are one and half times more likely to graduate within six years than Black students. In fact, less than 4 in 10 Black students who start college finish within six years. Black students are also much more likely to have to take a remedial course, work part-time while in college, and attend a two-year instead of a four-year college.

As a presidential candidate and the president of an HBCU, we are committed to partnering together to increase the college completion rates of African-Americans in order to expand opportunities and extend the American Dream to hundreds of thousands of more students each year. A key ingredient in this work will be supporting our Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

For millions of African-American college graduates in America, HBCUs have provided a pathway to the middle class. HBCUs graduate about half of Black teachers in America, large numbers of Black scientists and engineers, and one in three Black college graduates with degrees in biology and math. They do this while serving a population in which more than two-thirds of students receive Pell Grants, a demonstration of how they expand opportunity, even with limited resources, to new corners of society. But HBCUs cannot continue to offer this pathway to the middle class without real resources for their institutions and for their students.

First, we need to provide HBCUs with the funding they need to keep creating educational pathways for under-served students and improve their retention and graduation rates. We’re calling on everyone who cares about higher education to support a proposal that will make new direct investments in public colleges and universities, including public HBCUs, to make sure that those students at public HBCUs never have to take out a loan to pay tuition for a four-year degree and never have to pay a dime for tuition for a two-year degree. And because public HBCUs serve an above-average proportion of Pell Grant recipients, they will receive comparatively more federal funding under the compact, all while students can direct Pell Grant funding to living expenses. And for private HBCUs, the compact makes up to $25 billion available for HBCUs and MSIs. These funds will not only reduce attendance costs but improve support services that can be so critical to student success in college. 

Second, we need to take steps that remove obstacles for students who are working to get an education. That means making sure that the student loan program serves student interests by cutting interest rates so that the federal government does not make a profit, and it means making sure we examine ways to open the Pell Grant program so students can continue to take the classes they need to progress toward graduation throughout the year. It also means expanding on-campus child care and scholarships for students who are also parents, and it means working with states and institutions to ease credit-transfer policies and extend advising resources to smooth the pathway from a two-year degree to a four-year degree, a pathway that HBCUs are well-placed to provide. And it means ensuring that graduates know that after they leave school, they will never have to repay more than 10 percent of their income in a year and, should they work in a public field for 10 years, are eligible for public service loan forgiveness.  

Finally, we need to recognize and affirm the role that HBCUs play in producing such impressive graduates for our country. It is time for the resources and leadership to ensure that all HBCUs can thrive in the 21st century. Thriving HBCUs will produce a new generation of leaders, strengthening our communities, our economy, and our country.

Hillary Clinton is a Democratic candidate for president. Glenda Glover is the president of Tennessee State University.

(Photo from left: Thomas Shea/Getty Images)

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