Trump, And Most Black College Presidents, Absent From Annual Meeting

Sep 19, 2017
Originally published on September 20, 2017 12:45 pm

Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has pledged commitment to historically black colleges, or HBCUs.

And just about every year, HBCU leaders gather in Washington D.C., to lobby Congress and the White House. This year President Trump was not there to greet them, which was just as well because the meeting took place amid simmering frustration with the Trump administration.

Much of that frustration is due to what HBCUs consider little or no support from the administration, and what they call a lack of understanding of the financial straits some schools are facing.

But there are other reasons some leaders didn't show up. Among them, President Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Also, Trump's questioning of the constitutionality of federal funding that HBCUs receive for construction projects. "It benefits schools on the basis of race," the president said back in May.

At the time, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisana, called that statement, "stunningly careless and divisive."

Still, some HBCU presidents and their supporters thought it was important to attend this week's meeting at the White House. Among them, Michael Lomax, the CEO of the United Negro College Fund, a key supporter of historically black institutions.

"We went to the meeting with the expectation that it would be a substantive meeting," he says. "Unfortunately we didn't have that kind of substantive discussion."

Of the 107 HBCUs across the country, Lomx says only 29 showed up. Grambling State University president, Rick Gallot, was not one of them.

"HBCUs relationship with Congress is more important. They pass the budget," says Gallot. "The administration apparently doesn't understand how urgent the funding problem is."

According to the United Negro College Fund, HBCUs enroll about 300,000 students nationwide. They graduate 20 percent of all African-Americans who attend college, they produce 70 percent of all black doctors and dentists, and 50 percent of black engineers and public school teachers.

But Gallot says all of that is at risk because of funding cuts. In Louisiana, Grambling's home state, for example, Gallot says the legislature has slashed higher education from 55 to 27 percent and HBCU's like Grambling have taken a huge hit.

Trump's proposed budget, meanwhile, offers no relief, says Gallot. It does not include enough money for year-round Pell Grants. It cuts funding for work-study programs by half and eliminates opportunity grants altogether.

Gallot says that's 733 million dollars less in federal funding. "Right now this is a crisis for low-income students, particularly at minority-serving institutions and historically black colleges," Gallot says.

NPR requested an interview with White House officials who organized the meeting with HBCUs this week, but didn't receive a response by publication.

This week President Trump appointed Johnathan M. Holifield, a former NFL player turned business consultant, to head up an advisory board that will work with historically black colleges and universities.

Still, HBCU presidents insist that if the Trump administration is serious, it has a lot of work to do to repair its relationship with black institutions.


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Every president since Jimmy Carter has pledged commitment to historically black colleges, HBCUs. Leaders from these schools come to Washington to lobby Congress and the White House. This year, though, President Trump did not attend the annual meeting, which took place amid growing frustration with him and his administration. Claudio Sanchez of the NPR Ed team explains.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: HBCU presidents say their frustrations are due mostly to what they consider little or no support from the Trump administration or its understanding of the financial crisis some HBCUs are facing. But there are other reasons some HBCU presidents didn't show up - President Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., for example. Also, back in May, Trump questioned the constitutionality of federal funding that HBCUs receive for construction projects because, the president said, it benefited schools on the basis of race. The chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana at the time, called the statement stunningly careless and divisive. Still, some HBCU presidents and their supporters thought it was important to attend this week's meeting at the White House.

MICHAEL LOMAX: We went to the meeting with the expectation that it would be a substantive meeting.

SANCHEZ: Michael Lomax is CEO of the United Negro College Fund, a key supporter of historically black institutions.

LOMAX: Unfortunately, we didn't have that kind of a substantive discussion.

SANCHEZ: Lomax says 29 HBCU presidents showed up. That's 29 out of 107 institutions, by the way. Lomax says he and others left disappointed. Among those who were not there - Grambling State University President Rick Gallot. He says the administration apparently does not understand how urgent the funding problem is, so HBCUs will have to look elsewhere for support.

RICK GALLOT: Any chance of HBCUs doing better in the federal budget, it's going to be because of the relationship that we have created with Congress. I mean, they understand the importance of HBCUs.

SANCHEZ: They enroll about 300,000 students nationwide. And according to the United Negro College Fund, they graduate 20 percent of all African-Americans who attend college. They produce 70 percent of all black doctors and dentists and 50 percent of black engineers and public school teachers. But Gallot says all of that is at risk because of funding cuts. In Louisiana, Grambling's home state, for example, Gallot says the legislature has slashed higher education and HBCUs like Grambling have taken a huge hit.

GALLOT: The state support for colleges and universities in Louisiana dropped from approximately 65 percent down to about 27 percent now. So the state only funds about 27 percent of all of higher ed funding in Louisiana now. The other 73 percent comes from tuition.

SANCHEZ: Gallot says Trump's proposed budget, though, offers no relief. It does not include enough money for year-round Pell Grants. It cuts funding for work study programs by half and eliminates opportunity grants altogether. President Trump, meanwhile, has appointed Johnathan M. Holifield, a former NFL player-turned-business consultant, to head up an advisory board that will work with historically black colleges and universities. But HBCU presidents insist that if the Trump administration is serious, it has a lot of work to do to repair its relationship with black institutions. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.