On the campus of Delaware State University, students and staff are settling into a new normal. Like most yards across the country, activity is resuming—intellectual conversations, classes, football games—but the cloud of Covid still looms overhead. HBCUs have been uniquely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and misinformed headlines of a federal budget cut for these institutions have put many on edge about their future.
As the president of Del State, Dr. Tony Allen is uniquely familiar with the challenges HBCUs face. But as the incoming chair of President Joe Biden’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, he is also assured that Black institutions are a priority for the administration. “I can tell you that the appreciation for and commitment to HBCUs from the president is deep in his bones,” Allen tells EBONY by phone last week. “He actually started his first Senatorial Campaign on the hallowed grounds at Delaware State University.”
Nine months into the Biden-Harris administration, Allen reports that HBCUs have already received $4 billion in relief through the American rescue plan, $1.6 billion of which was in capital debt relief to go toward infrastructure, needed repairs and investments. “It’s not just about how the money was allocated,” Allen points out, “but the specificity with which he built some core programs right at the outset of his administration.”
For Allen and other HBCU presidents, the attention, both financially and otherwise, has been positively received. It’s why Dillard President Walter M. Kimbrough was quick to dismiss the false news that suggested Biden had cut HBCU funding from $45 billion to $2 billion. “Fact: ‘Each year, the federal government disperses about $1 billion to HBCUs through a mix of 15 programs such as Pell Grants and research and development contracts.’ You CAN’T cut 30 from 1. Simple math,” he tweeted.
While Biden’s bold HBCU budget has taken quite a hit in Congress, $2 billion in funding would still double the previous allotment. Add to that the money earmarked in the infrastructure bill, Allen quips, “That is an addition, an add, not a subtraction.” If the bill passes, it will be another significant show of support for HBCUs in the places where these institutions tend to need it the most—capital infrastructure, tuition subsidies, and other key factors that are important to making sure that these schools are competitive and keeping up with contemporary times.
A little over six weeks ago, Delaware State provided $2.9 million in student debt relief for its students, a monetary amount that affected 90 percent of enrolled students, Allen shares. “We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the American Rescue Plan and the provisions that allowed us to apply it in that way.”
HBCUs have historically served a disproportionate number of students from low-resource communities, and have been successful in getting them over the finish line, across the graduation stage and into a job in their discipline where they execute and excel. With the American Rescue Plan, HBCUs, which are often forced to do more with less, have been able to invest in first year retention efforts. This pivotal period has proven crucial to a student’s college career, and the largest indicator of eventual graduation. While many HBCUs are proud to report that retention rates are up, they look forward to an increase under Biden’s Build Back Better Plan that outlines tuition subsidies for families whose incomes are below $125,000. The more aid given to these schools, the more students they are able to successfully graduate, who then give back to the alma mater that invested in them. Allen calls that “the best kind of return on investment.”
“I keep saying the old adage of HBCUs do more with less, is true, but we have to stop accepting that,” Allen protests. “We have a real partner that’s going to help us do that, not just through the infrastructure bill or one legislation here, one legislation there, but through the whole of his administration.”