In the shadow of controversy that was linked to a meeting of dozens of HBCU presidents at the White House, President Trump signed an executive order pledging support of his administration to the institutions on Tuesday. But the presidential action, while not directly providing funding for the schools, which are under great financial stress, changes how the White House recognizes and deals with them.
The specifics of the order were not discussed at the Tuesday signing, while Trump was surrounded by a group of Black college leaders who have been meeting with him since Monday. But in his remarks the president said “with this executive order, we will make HBCUs a priority in the White House, an absolute priority.”
The order moves the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the governance of the Department of Education and to the supervision of the White House, placing it under an executive director appointed by the Trump administration. According to HBCU Digest, the order also says that U.S. government agencies that are identified as funding matches for the schools must submit reports within 90 days on how public and private resources would be used toward the benefit of HBCUs. Also, an advisory board will exist that will brief the president on the relationship between federal agencies and the colleges as pertaining to funding opportunities.
There have been executive orders on HBCUs since the Carter administration, and each president since has signed a document pledging support of the White House to the schools. Trump’s order is not unlike an Obama administration edict, which directed agencies to facilitate liaisons between the government and HBCUs, create a plan to strengthen the schools’ capacities and create objectives to achieve regarding the schools within their own agency plans. The difference, however, is that those objectives will now be reported directly to the White House rather than the Department of Education.
Still the order differs from what the HBCUs themselves were hoping for from the White House in terms of support. In December, HBCU presidents laid out a 10-point plan outlining what they felt would assist the institutions. Those points included: Convening a White House summit on HBCUs; including HBCUs in a national infrastructure program; a plan to rejuvenate and boost the effectiveness of Pell Grants; and improving and simplifying the student aid process, among other items.
The order was signed in the midst of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ statement on Monday about HBCUs, calling them “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” She has since backed away from what she said, explaining it away.
But your history was born not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War.
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) February 28, 2017
Another controversy, mainly Internet driven, also surrounded the meeting with the HBCU presidents earlier Tuesday when a photo circulated with the leaders surrounding Trump, while senior White House adviser Kellyane Conway sat on a couch with her feet folded beneath her in a position that seemed a bit too comfortable for an official Oval Office meeting. Despite a web explosion of debate, the White House has not commented.