Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are a hot topic among most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 0.1 percent of the overall student population attends HBCUs, but according to Thurgood Marshall College Fund, HBCUs are responsible for 22% of current bachelor’s degrees granted to African-Americans.
However, HBCUs have graduation rates about 21 percent lower than non-HBCUs, as well as debt levels that often exceed those reported by students at predominantly white institutions, Brookings Institutions’ Director of Economic Studies Richard V. Reeves reported.
Because of this and other issues HBCUs face, like underfunding, students at HBCUs are taking a close look at what the candidate’s plans are for their specific higher education needs.
In a focus group with ABC News, six student leaders at South Carolina State University sounded off on what they want to hear and see from the Democratic candidates before they decide who will get their vote.
“We need mandatory financial literacy for high school students,” Jaelyn McCrea told ABC News. “We need to make it a point to reach every school -- low income to private school -- to make sure every student is educated on scholarships, financial aid and what student loans really are. Start early [so students] aren’t stuck when they get to college.”
“Right now, we do not have time for someone to give us promises while not seeing actual steps to move towards solutions, especially going against Trump in the 2020 election,” Charles C. Patton told ABC News. “We need to go with a candidate that we can actually get behind with stuff that is rooted in reality.”
Here’s a look at what each democratic candidate has said they’re pledging for HBCUs.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recently announced a multi-billion-dollar plan for HBCUs during a campaign rally at Morehouse College on Nov. 21 aimed at energizing young Black voters.
Sanders’ plan will allow any student to receive a tuition-free education from any HBCU, including private institutions, regardless of income.
Notable highlights from the plan include the expansion of Pell Grants to cover the non-tuition and fee costs of school, including housing, books, supplies, transportation, and other costs of living, according to his website.
In a new campaign advertisement, the campaign targets HBCU students, touting the Senator’s focus on the unique needs of their communities.
The ad intercuts candid moments from Sanders’ HBCU Tour and includes a montage of activists, surrogates, and Black campaign staffers -- like Briahna Joy Gray, national press secretary – engaging with students.
In addition to building coalitions and teaching community organizing on HBCU campuses, Delaney Vandergrift, the campaign’s HBCU organizing manager, will host a series of webinars for students to understand the primary and caucus process.
Additionally, Sanders proposes triple funding for the Work-Study Program.
“By tripling funding for this program, we can build valuable career experiences for students that will help them after they graduate,” the candidate announced on his website, adding how the program today provides about $1,760 per year to some 700,000 students.
“When we are in the White House, we will expand the program to reach at least 2.1 million students -- a 1.4 million student increase. And we will ensure that funding targets schools that have large low-income student enrollment.”
Sanders’ plan also details the removal of barriers to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for college students, to increase benefits, broaden eligibility, and remove punitive work requirements, according to his website.
Sanders will also require participating states and tribes to cover the full cost of obtaining a degree for low-income students by covering any gap that may still exist after eliminating tuition, fees, and grants, according to his website.
His plan will also match any additional spending from states and tribes which reduces the cost of attending school at a dollar for dollar rate, the website says.
“This funding goes beyond closing the cost gap -- participating states and tribes could use this money to hire additional faculty, ensure professors get professional development opportunities, and increase students’ access to educational opportunities,” he said on the website.
Through his plan, Sanders also intends to cap student loan interest rates at 1.88 percent, the website states.
“The promise of education without the obstacle of tuition and fees will allow more students to attend the HBCU of their choice and increase HBCU enrollment across the country,” Sanders states on his website.
At the Morehouse event, he also unveiled a $5 billion plan to train more teachers at HBCUs.
Only 7 percent of public school teachers are Black despite making up 13 percent of the country’s population, his website reports, adding how Black students who have at least one Black teacher for a single year between kindergarten and 3rd grade perform better in math and reading. Finally, students of color who have at least one teacher of color by third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college, the website says.
Through his plan, Sanders will make historic investments in public education and reduce the shortage of Black teachers by investing in teacher-training programs at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, according to his website.
He also announced at Morehouse how a separate $5 billion program will focus on preparing more Black dentists and other health-care professionals.
“We have to make sure that in African American communities there are the doctors, the nurses, the psychologists [that] are there to provide the care that the people in those communities need,” Sanders said.
Black Americans represent 13 percent of the total U.S. population, and although the number of Black graduates has increased in all other fields, only 4 percent of physicians are Black, according to his website.
“We must fight these disparities by increasing the likeliness that Black patients will have health care providers and servicers that look like them and relate to their cultural and life experiences firsthand,” he said on the website. “A key way to address the long-standing racial disparities that exist within America’s health care workforce is by educating more Black medical providers at institutions that have a proven track record.”
He added how “more than 80 percent of African American doctors and dentists throughout U.S. history received their education at Howard University and Meharry Medical College -- the country’s two oldest HBCU medical schools.”
Sanders’ plan also intends to make HBCUs and MSIs a key partner in combating climate change, according to his website.
“There is no doubt that the poor and marginalized suffer from the impacts of pollution and climate disruption — particularly communities of color. They are at the frontlines of the climate emergency,” he explained on the website.
He will launch the decade of the Green New Deal, a 10-year nationwide mobilization centered around justice and equity during which climate change will be factored into virtually every area of policy, from immigration to trade to foreign policy and beyond, according to his website.
So, how would he pay for all of this?
According to a summary of his College For All Act, it would be fully paid for by “Imposing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street.”
This legislation is offset by imposing a Wall Street speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators of 0.5% on stock trades (50 cents for every $100 worth of stock), a 0.1% fee on bonds, and a 0.005% fee on derivatives.
It has been estimated that this provision could raise hundreds of billions a year, which could be used not only to make tuition free at public colleges and universities in this country, it could also be used to create millions of jobs and rebuild the middle class of this country, according to the website.
SENATOR CORY BOOKER
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s campaign announced his proposal to invest $100 billion into HBCUs and other institutions serving minorities as part of his effort to boost higher education.
His plan would also involve the schools in combating climate change by requiring 10 percent of proposed “Climate Moonshot Hubs,” which in total cost $400 billion, be located on HBCU campuses, The Hill reports.
Booker’s proposal includes dedicating at least $40 billion to HBCUs for climate change research to put HBCUs at the forefront of the climate justice conversation.
It also calls for an additional $30 billion in grants to expand and improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics — known as STEM education — at HBCUs and minority-serving institutions, and another $30 billion in grants to upgrade facilities and infrastructure at the schools, the New York Times reports.
“HBCUs make our country stronger and more reflective of the diversity that makes us so great,” Booker said in a statement announcing the proposal, the New York Times reports. “I am here today because of the power of these institutions to uplift and bring about opportunity to black Americans.”
Booker’s plan calls for more collaboration between HBCUs and federal agencies and would commit an additional $30 billion for Education Department grants. His plan is intended to expand upon already existing collaborations, The Hill reports.
For example, in 2017, 15 HBCUs entered into a partnership to provide technical expertise to federal agencies. The initiative was expected to increase diversity in government contracting, a press release detailed at the time, HBCU Buzz reported.
Booker’s expansion of the collaborations between HBCUs and federal agencies would include passing a law, the Parren Mitchell Minority Business Education and Empowerment Act, proposed by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, that would require the SBA to collaborate with HBCUs to establish Small Business Development Centers and develop entrepreneurship curricula, Booker’s website says.
He would also fight to pass the HBCU PARTNERS Act, which would direct federal agencies to make a concerted effort to support HBCU participation in federal programs and grants, according to his website.
Booker’s HBCU plan is the largest, in terms of dollar amount, by any of the Democratic candidates vying for the presidency in 2020.
Booker, whose parents graduated from HBCUs -- his mother graduated from Fisk University and his father graduated from North Carolina Central University -- also plans to expand college access by doubling the value of Pell Grants from $6,200 to $12,400, while also requiring that 10 percent of Second Chance Pell Grant programs are given to Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions.
Currently, more than 70 percent of students at HBCUs receive Pell Grants.
Booker would also fight to pass the Debt-Free College Act, which would help students who attend public colleges, HBCUs, or MSIs graduate without debt by providing public funding to cover the full cost of college, including tuition, fees and living expenses, according to his website.
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren first announced her comprehensive education reform plan, which pays specific attention to HBCUs, in a Medium post in April.
“For decades, Black Americans were kept out of higher education by virtue of overtly discriminatory policies,” Warren wrote in the Medium post. “Even as the civil rights movement rolled back racially discriminatory admissions policies, the stratification of our higher education system kept students of color concentrated in under-resourced institutions and left them vulnerable to predatory actors.”
Warren recently spoke at North Carolina A&T in November where detailed the plan and promised $50 billion in aid for HBCUs.
During the discussion, she said she wants to enforce and pass policies that allow “economic room for ventures that would boost educational institutions, including colleges by adding funding for HBCUs, working towards tuition-free college, and canceling the student debts of millions,” the A&T Register reported.
On July 23, Warren introduced a bill that would forgive approximately $640 billion of student loan debt, specifically for lower and middle-income earners.
Warren acknowledged that Black borrowers, specifically those who have attended an HBCU, are most affected by the student debt crisis.
During a recent appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the Massachusetts senator broke it down further, detailing how taxing the wealthy would help fund her plans.
“It’s part of the reason that I have proposed a two-cent wealth tax the top one-tenth of one percent in this country,” she began. “So, your first fifty-billion dollars will be free and clear.”
Fallon, joked, “Phew. Thank you. Oh my god, I got nervous for a second.”
“I’m a reasonable woman,” Warren quipped, and then continued explaining that on the 50 billionth and first dollar of accumulated wealth “you gotta pitch in two-cents. And two-cents on every dollar after that.”
“You know what that would let us buy, two-cents on the top folks,” she said, detailing the impact the tax would have on things like universal childcare and raising wages of every childcare worker, who are largely Black and brown women, adding how it will also “put $50 billion dollars into our historically Black colleges and universities, and, on that same two-cents, cancel student loan debt for 43 million Americans, that’s what we can do.”
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
Former Vice President Joe Biden detailed a $750 billion plan for higher education that would make free community college a main goal. The plan would also revamp troubled student loan forgiveness and repayment programs and boost funding for HBCUs, Politico reports.
Over $70 billion would be invested in HBCUs, tribal colleges and institutions that serve minorities, Politico reports.
According to his website, as president, Biden will take steps to rectify the funding disparities faced by HBCUs, TCUs, and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) so that the United States can benefit from their unique strengths.
Students at HBCUs, TCUs and MSIs will benefit from Biden’s proposals to double Pell Grants, slash the income-based repayment of loans to 5% of income, and provide free tuition for students at all community colleges, including those that are MSIs.
The $70 billion for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions would include $18 billion in grants, equivalent to up to two years of tuition per low-income and middle class students, including students who transfer to a four-year HBCU from a tuition-free community college, according to his campaign website.
The Biden administration will also invest $10 billion to create at least 200 new centers of excellence that serve as research incubators and connect students underrepresented in fields critical to our nation’s future – including fields tackling climate change, globalization, inequality, health disparities, and cancer – to learning and career opportunities.
He will also boost funding for agricultural research at land-grant universities, many of which are HBCUs and TCUs, as outlined in his Plan for Rural America, according to his campaign website.
Other plan highlights include $20 billion to build high tech labs and facilities and digital infrastructure needed for learning, research and innovation at HBCUs as well as updating and modernization of deteriorating facilities.
Also, $10 billion in programs that increase enrollment, retention, completion and employment rates. Another $5 billion in graduate programs in teaching, health care and STEM, to develop robust internship and career pipelines at major research agencies, including Department of Energy National Laboratories, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, according to his campaign website.
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg first announced his plan for HBCUs at Morehouse College on Nov. 18.
Buttigieg says that as president he would increase HBCU and minority-serving school funding by $50 billion.
“As a presidential candidate and the son of educators, I believe it’s long past time that we give Historically Black Colleges and Universities the funding they deserve and ensure these institutions continue to provide students of color with greater opportunities,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun.
He also wrote, “At the same time, we’ll ensure more young people have access to college, including public HBCUs, by providing free tuition to low- and middle-class students and making basic living expenses free for the lowest-income students.”
At a recent visit to South Carolina State University on Dec. 2, Buttigieg reiterated his plans for HBCUs, detailing how his Douglass Plan, inspired by African-American hero Frederick Douglass, aims to dismantle racist structures and systems combined with international and affirmative investments in the freedom and self-determination of Black Americans, according to his campaign website.
Through his Douglass Plan, Buttigieg will dedicate $50 billion “in funding streams for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions with an emphasis on building infrastructures and supporting the cultivation of a next generation of black professionals in areas where there’s not enough representation because so many things won’t be solved until we fix it,” he told the Times and Democrat.
“So many solutions are already on the campuses of HBCUs, where we need to be investing, and I believe that requires federal dollars,” he added.
FORMER HUD SECRETARY JULIÁN CASTRO
Julián Castro released an education proposal in May calling for universal pre-K and student loan forgiveness, which would also invest more money in HBCUs, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions and end public support for private for-profit colleges, the Washington Times reported.
“Education is the foundation of the American Dream and one of the most critical investments our nation makes in its future,” Castro said at the time, the Washington Times reported. “However, we have failed to adequately invest in our students, teachers and schools — disproportionately affecting lower-income communities and students of color.”
Castro’s “People First Education Plan” includes “that those who have committed to further their education in college aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that hampers their ability to start a family, buy a home, or launch their careers,” according to his website.
Castro’s education plan will support HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, which serve an important role in American society through an additional investment of $3 billion per year towards financial support and increasing access for low-income students, according to his website.
SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s “Many Paths to Success” Post-Secondary Education Plan aims to strengthen and increase affordability for HBCUs through her “Pathways to Student Success initiative.”
Through the initiative, participating HBCUs and MSIs will receive federal funding to waive or significantly reduce the first two years of tuition for low-income students at four-year schools, according to an op-ed by her campaign on Medium.
Klobuchar would also double the maximum Pell Grant -- which, unlike loans, do not have to be repaid -- to $12,000 per year, and expand eligibility to families making up to $100,000 per year. She will also index Pell Grant levels to inflation, the Medium op-ed states.
REP. TULSI GABBARD
While U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has not released a specific plan focused on HBCUs, her education policy includes free college and improving flexibility and support for teachers and education.
She helped push legislation for the College for All Act, which would eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families that make up to $125,000 a year, and it would make community college tuition fee-free for everyone, according to her website.
“The cost of a college education is unattainable for too many,” she once tweeted. “We can guarantee #CollegeForAll by taxing Wall Street and investing in people.”
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET
In November, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet announced a new push to pass funding for HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), according to his website.
“The Bennet Administration will make a commitment that by 2028, every child born in this country, regardless of circumstance, will be at the center of a community that offers them a real chance to flourish personally and prosper financially,” his campaign website states.
Bennet’s 2028 commitment includes supporting post-secondary education because “college costs too much, resulting in student debt that hamstrings future choices.”
This includes enacting free community college, making four-year public colleges debt free, working with states to reduce the cost of higher education, reducing student debt burdens, and expanding debt forgiveness and allowing for refinancing of student loans, according to his website.
“We will forgive $10,000 per year in student loan debt for up to four years for public servants and those who work in high-need professions in underserved communities, such as teachers, OB-GYNs, nurses, or primary care physicians in rural areas or high-poverty urban communities where there are shortages of these professionals,” according to his campaign website.
ENTREPRENEUR ANDREW YANG
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang said on his website, “HBCUs fill an important gap that currently exists in our higher educational system. We need to ensure they have equitable funding and equal access to resources available to other higher education entities.”
He also states on his campaign website that “despite the large benefit HBCUs have provided the national economy, they struggle with adequate funding and resources. HBCUs rely more heavily on public funding than other schools because HBCUs have fewer private funding options and face discrimination from private funding sources, but public funding for HBCUs has been cut by 42% since 2003. HBCUs lack the fundraising infrastructure to tap their alumni network, resulting in small endowments.”
Yang proposes $250 million in federal funds to provide training programs in grant writing for the faculty and staff at HBCUs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He also proposes providing $7.5 billion in federal funding for general infrastructure improvements and $750 million for building out a fundraising infrastructure, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Finally, Yang’s plan also includes $6 billion in federal funding for scholarships and internships through the White House Initiative on HBCUs; and to end any practices that allow banks to charge HBCUs higher fees, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG
Michael Bloomberg, who recently announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, was a part of a United Negro College Fund (UNCF) fundraising event on March 21, which raised more than a half a million dollars to invest in HBCUs and the deserving students that attend them, the UNCF announced.
The billionaire recently made a $1.8 billion donation to his alma mater Johns Hopkins University to fund student financial aid, he wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times.
Today, Bloomberg leads national efforts to increase the number of lower-income students enrolled in top colleges. As president, he will make it a top national priority to increase student achievement, college preparedness and career readiness, according to his website.
Bloomberg’s record on education and college access includes reforming policies that led to a 42% increase in graduation rates in New York City public schools, with African-American and Hispanic students making the biggest gains. He also doubled the education budget and gave a 43% raise to teachers, because he believes in paying teachers well and recruiting and retaining the best, according to his campaign website.
BILLIONARE TOM STEYER
Tom Steyer announced a new national public service plan on his website, focusing attention and outreach on recruiting opportunities for youth, high school, and college students, and college graduates, including those from HBCUs.
On Tuesday (Dec. 10), the billionaire former hedge fund manager announced, during a speech in South Carolina, that he’d propose investing $125 billion over 10 years to HBCUs, The Post and Courier reports.
“These are institutions that were designed specifically to combat historic racism and prejudice, that do fulfill those roles and that have been starved for capital. If you take a look, they have seen 42 percent of their federal funding disappear from 2003 to 2015. These are schools that have relied traditionally disproportionately on tuition,” he told The Post and Courier. “So we have the poorest people with institutions that don’t have great state support or equivalent state support, don’t have great federal support and don’t have huge endowments. So they’ve really been struggling economically at the same time that they’re at least as critical as they’ve ever been in terms of offering that opportunity to low-income African Americans. So it’s really important that these institutions for a variety of reasons be supported and strengthened.”
Steyer told The Post and Courier that he intends to fund his plan by “raising taxes on high-income Americans” and “raising taxes on big corporations, many of whom are paying zero.”
“Also I’m in favor of the wealth tax,” he added.
FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK
Former Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick, who recently entered the Democratic presidential race, canceled a campaign speech at Morehouse College on Nov. 20 after only two people showed up, CNN reported.
Under his Opportunity Agenda on his website, Patrick included “education from pre-K to community college, and right through workforce development and retraining, because education is the single best investment the public can make in its own collective future.”
FORMER U.S. REP. JOHN DELANEY
Former U.S. Rep. John Delaney announced his “Commitment to Black America” plan in April, which is designed to address stark disparities in economics, criminal justice, health care and education, including HBCUs, according to his website.
His website also details how a Delaney administration would make higher education more affordable by reducing costs of student loans and providing more grants to help students from lower-income families.
SPIRITUAL TEACHER MARIANNE WILLIAMSON
It’s unclear how and if spiritual author Marianne Williamson will support HBCUs, but she did gain momentum with Black viewers during the Democratic debate in July with her plan calling for “$500 billion in financial assistance” for reparations.
Under her education plan, as detailed on her campaign website, Williamson said she supports free college or technical school tuition for every qualified student.
“If we cannot find ideal offsets for this expense, I’m open to exploring ways that students can repay some of these costs with a small payroll tax once they start working (based on Oregon’s efforts) or through reasonable amounts of public service,” she said on the campaign website.
She also seeks student loan amnesty “to explore student loan forgiveness and options to remove red tape and lockouts, and reduce on-time payments from 10 years to 5 years.”