Washington, Mar 1: President Donald Trump has signed an executive order aimed at signaling his commitment to historically black colleges and universities, saying that those schools will be "an absolute priority for this White House."
HBCU presidents are hoping Congress will bolster Trump's actions to strengthen the schools with dramatically increased funding in the upcoming federal budget. They are calling for USD 25 billion for infrastructure, college readiness, financial aid and other priorities.
Under President Barack Obama's administration, historically black colleges and universities received USD 4 billion over seven years. "The next step is the budget. You cannot have mission without money," Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Johnny Taylor told reporters on Tuesday outside the White House after the signing ceremony.
Many of the college presidents also went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby Congress for more funding. Taylor said the USD 25 billion is needed to make up for years of underfunding and would cover the country's more than 100 HBCUs. Several presidents and HBCU advocacy organizations echoed Taylor's sentiments. "This is a great day for my membership and a great day for America," said Lezli Baskerville, head of the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Education, an umbrella group for public, private and land-grant HBCUs.
GOP lawmakers said there were currently no concrete plans for increased funding. Several of them attended meetings on Tuesday that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S C, and Republican Mark Walker, R-N C, arranged with HBCU presidents, GOP officials and business leaders. Scott said he and Walker 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."
Republican Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a member of the House Budget Committee, was more skeptical. "There is no substance at this point," she said Monday, adding that she is waiting to see the contents of Trump's executive order, and what Congress does during the budget process. Trump's order moves the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education into the executive office of the White House.
It 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. It does not specify how much federal money the colleges should receive.
The moves are among the actions some college presidents said they would like to see from the new administration. Some of them decided to come to Washington over the objections of students and alumni, saying they can ill afford to play politics while Trump moves quickly to set priorities.