The Biden-Harris Administration is the first to actually have an HBCU graduate in its midst and as a result, Vice President Kamala Harris has a keen understanding of the proud history and level of excellence that these schools exude as institutions of higher education.
Despite the administration’s vocal promises to support these institutions, Black students and their ideology of educational equity, the message has been buried under a mountain of misinformation. There have been a number of traditional media – and even some prominent Black folks– who have been ill-prepared or simply wrong when reporting on the current administration’s policies on HBCUs regarding everything from funding infrastructure to creating space for innovation .
Last fall, the White House had to correct an Associated Press report and rhetoric by Pastor Jamal Bryant for misstating that President Joe Biden planned to “defund” HBCUs from $45 billion to $2 billion. Bryant only added fuel to the fire pushing a false narrative which he later had to retract as did the AP. The outlet later posted that Biden “did not take any steps to reduce funding to historically Black colleges and universities.”
While those falsehoods were corrected, the damage had already been done. Since then, the White House has tried to properly inform the masses of just how much it is doing to bolster the prominence of HBCUs in American higher education.
Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and an HBCU graduate himself, Cedric Richmond provided a statement to BET.com explaining, “The President is committed to historic investments and support for HBCUs and he is honoring that commitment. Since January, the Biden-Harris Administration delivered an unprecedented $5.8 billion in HBCU funding. This is only the beginning. We will continue to partner with academic leaders and stakeholders to uplift these engines of opportunity for generations to come.”
This $5.8 billion in funding is in addition to a promise of $1.34 billion in debt forgiveness for HBCUs, both of which were passed at the end of 2020. North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams, who co-chairs the HBCU Caucus in Congress, proposed the HBCU Capital Finance Debt Relief Act, was included in the Omnibus spending deal passed just before Biden and Harris were inaugurated.
The debt relief program is of tremendous help to many HBCUs that took loans in the 1990s to refinance existing debt, make infrastructure repairs and renovations, and invest in new development and construction projects. Once that debt is wiped clean, the schools are free to invest in other areas of need and provide improvements (some of which have been on hold for years) that will help in the recruitment and retention of students.
The National Association for Equal Opportunity in High Education (NAFEO), the only national membership association to include all 106 HBCUS and nearly 80 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), is adding the voice of its members to the issue to make it clear that this administration is absolutely bringing the full force of federal government to assist in strengthening HBCUs foothold in our country–– even the institutions that aren't specifically entitled to federal funds.
In an open letter from the NAFEO, the association shares how effective HBCUs are and says the institutions “punch above their weight.”
Four percent (4%) of American four-year colleges and universities are enrolling approximately twenty-one percent (21%) of all African American undergraduate college students and conferring twenty-two percent (22%) of all bachelor’s degrees earned by African Americans. HBCUs produce more than forty percent (40 %) of African Americans receiving advanced degrees in STEM fields; and twenty-four percent (24 %) of all PhDs earned each year by African Americans are conferred by twenty-four (24) HBCUs.”
The NAFEO says the support from the Executive Branch will allow them to better serve their students while also increasing the assistance and services they provide to those who live in the communities near their campuses. In addition to projects as simple as coronavirus testing and communication about vaccination services, these schools will be able to focus on more complex efforts including accessing new or greater investments by foundations, corporations and philanthropists.
Since January 2021, the Biden Administration has in fact delivered a 5.8 billion cumulative investment in HBCUs which include the American Rescue plan emergency grants to help mitigate the challenges of the pandemic for student needs and school operations.
There’s also the heavy weight of the debt relief slowly being lifted by the Department of Educations (DOE) for HBCUs allowing 45 schools to focus their efforts on the future instead of the past. And, last summer, the DOE awarded various HBCUs $500 million in grants to expand current educational programs and provide the innovation needed to entice students interested in high-demand fields of study. The Biden-Harris Administration maintains that it is doing the work to ensure HBCUs remain crucial to the future of their students.