The presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities know what is needed to make their schools stronger and better.

They are calling for $25 billion for infrastructure, college readiness, financial aid and other priorities. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, HBCUs received $4 billion over seven years.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Johnny Taylor says $25 billion is needed to make up for years of underfunding and would cover the country’s more than 100 HBCUs. The college fund is the nonprofit umbrella for public HBCUs.

College presidents also point out that many of their students are eligible for the federal Pell Grant, and they would like to see the program strengthened.

Several HBCU leaders recently attended a White House ceremony where President Donald Trump signed an executive order that he says shows his commitment to their institutions, saying that the schools will be “an absolute priority for this White House.”

The college leaders met briefly with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Trump aide Omarosa Manigault, who holds degrees from two HBCUs: Central State University in Ohio and Howard University in Washington, D.C.

After the meeting and executive order, the question remains whether this signals a significant change and increased funding for HBCUs or little more than a photo opportunity for Trump.

“The next step is the budget. You cannot have a mission without money,” said Taylor.

Republican lawmakers said there were currently no concrete plans for increased funding.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he and U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) planned to personally push for more money for Black colleges and “hopefully we will be more successful than they have been in the last few years.”

However, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said if Trump was interested in helping HBCUs, he would increase spending on education instead of proposing cuts. She called his executive order “more empty symbolism.”

The founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) called the executive order a first step. “This action on HBCUs is not sufficient to hold up to promises made by this administration,” she said.

Trump’s executive order moves oversight of the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education to the White House. The order “directs the initiative to work with the private sector to strengthen the fiscal stability of HBCUs, make infrastructure improvements, provide job opportunities for students, work with secondary schools to create a college pipeline and increase access and opportunity for federal grants and contracts,” reports the Associated Press.

But it does not specify how much federal money the colleges should receive.

Some of the HBCU leaders met with Trump over the objections of students and alumni, saying they can ill afford to play politics while the new president moves quickly to set priorities.

However, it was incumbent upon the Black college leaders to engage Trump and other federal officials, despite the fact that Trump only received 8 percent of the African-American vote during the 2016 election, when Democrat Hillary Clinton capture 88 percent of the Black vote.

Since the GOP controls the White House and Congress, Republican approval will be needed for any funding coming from the federal government. “We owe it to our alumni, we owe it to our students to be at the table,” said Ray Belton, president of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Roslyn Artis, president of Florida Memorial University in Miami said she favors tax incentives that would attract government contractors and private companies to invest in historically Black schools, many of which are financially struggling.

While some HBCU presidents in attendance have cautious optimism, others are right to be wary of the Trump administration’s intentions.

A funding increase by Congress to HBCUs would be a wise investment since many of them are doing an outstanding job educating students despite inadequate resources.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 300,000 students are enrolled at historically Black colleges. Nearly 73 percent of HBCU students qualify for Pell Grants and in many cases come from low-income households and are first-generation college students who otherwise might not attend.

Yet HBCUs produce about 20 percent of all African-American graduates and 25 percent of those in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, better known as STEM, according to the United Negro College Fund.

Of the top 50 baccalaureate-origin institutions of Black science and engineering recipients 21 are HBCUs, according to a 2013 National Science Foundation report.

http://www.phillytrib.com/commentary/keep-pledge-to-make-black-colleges-an-absolute-priority/article_ae52e05e-5239-5c68-aeb2-232d2b0fe542.html

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