President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday that could open the door to new standards of federal support for HBCUs and create a more direct link between the White House and the schools, many of which have been financially struggling for years.
In a Monday meeting, Trump, White House communications official Omarosa Manigault and a few dozen presidents of the institutions discussed the administration’s policy toward them and the White House Initiative on HBCUs.
“It’s a little more complex than we anticipated, but the president made it very clear to just get it done, and so we are going to get it done,” Manigault said of the executive order, according to HBCU Digest. She was not specific as to exactly what the support from the White House would be.
The leaders of the schools discussed methods of improving education on their campuses and how to better their infrastructures. Also in attendance was Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and leadership from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund.
Michael Lomax, UNCF President and CEO, said that his organization welcomed the dialogue with the White House and encouraged partnering with the administration.
“Today’s meeting was an important first step toward building a working relationship between the administration, UNCF and America’s HBCUs,” Lomax said in a statement. “We look forward to continued dialogue and meaningful actions to advance HBCUs, including additional resources and investments that will expand the capacity of these historic institutions, which currently produce nearly 20 percent of the nation’s skilled African-American undergraduates.”
In a statement posted on Medium.com, Walter Kimbrough president of Dillard University said that he was scheduled to speak at the event, but that was curtailed by a change in the program and the time for HBCU presidents to speak was dramatically reduced. However, he outlined what he felt HBCUs need from the White House in terms of support.
He said that the maximum for Pell Grants, which affect students at all colleges, should be increased and that year-round Pell Grants should be restored. The Obama administration cut that feature of the grant in 2011, but attempted to bring it back a year ago.
“The Pell Grant should be the equalizer. It serves 36% of all students, 62% of Black students, and over 70% attending HBCUs. But the education as a private good philosophy has severely limited its impact on the neediest families,” Kimbrough said.
The leadership of the schools that attended the meeting will make a case to Congress for more federal support and funding on Tuesday. They will address Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Sen. Scott, and House Speaker Paul Ryan among others.
Meanwhile, DeVos, who also participated in the meeting, faced backlash after she said HBCUs are “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”
Supporters of HBCUs, have criticized school choice policies because they in many communities students of color do not have the options those policies are supposed to provide, and that in fact, choice is taken away from them.
Marybeth Gasman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority-Serving Institutions said that DeVos’ statement was a “whitewashing of U.S. history” and that she “is using HBCUs to promote her school choice agenda.”