Sixty-five HBCU presidents and chancellors wrote a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asking for their support in passing the Build Back Better legislation. Citing historic investments in HBCUs and other institutions serving students of color, the group warned of the “unsustainable” trend of increasing financial inequity.
According to the group, passing the Build Back Better legislation would alleviate some of that burden.
Build Back Better invests $10 billion for HBCUs, HSIs, and MSIs to build greater institutional capacity. This funding includes an unprecedented $6 billion increase in the mandatory programs at the Department of Education under Titles III and V – a five-fold increase from amounts that our institutions have received annually through these funding streams. Another $4 billion is provided for research and infrastructure development through competitive program grants – $3 billion from the Department of Education and $1 billion from the Department of Agriculture will become available for HBCUs to compete against like institutions.
Letter signatories include Dr. David Wilson from Morgan State University, Dr. Kimberly Ballard-Washington from Savannah State University, Dr. Suzanne Walsh of Bennett College, and Dr. Harold Martin from North Carolina A&T State University.
Dr. Tony Allen, chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, spoke with NewsOne about the proposed legislation and the positive impact on HBCUs.
“The quality of instruction and training at HBCUs is on par with other institutions I’ve seen,” Allen said. “In fact, I think our secret sauce is a special care that we take with our students. Having said that, we want our institutions and our footprint to look like the quality of that instruction and service to our students.”
Allen says the Build Back Better plan provisions are a “down payment” on the continued work of HBCUs.
“We’re only 3 percent of all college universities in the country,” Allen said. “But we’re still only getting 1 percent of all the federal resources and graduating nearly 20 percent of all African Americans.”
Allen said the funding would support modernizing on-campus student supports like living and learning communities and other programming that would help prepare students for the 21st-century workforce.
An outspoken advocate for equitable HBCU funding, Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough told the outlet that the proposed funds as a part of the Build Back Better proposal are a “good first step” for investment in HBCUs.
“We have an opportunity to really invest in a sector of higher education that disproportionately educates students and families that really have not had that kind of investment in the past,” Kimbrough said. “And as America becomes more diverse, we need HBCUs to be strengthened in the kind of work that they’re doing.”
Kimbrough pointed to additional funding through the Title III and Title V programs that could increase institutional capacity. He said the $6 billion in investments in both programs would be a massive boost for HBCUs.
“Those funds really provide us an opportunity to leverage some of the resources on campus to work in terms of our campus infrastructure, in terms of key services on campus,” Kimbrough explained. “And then there’s additional money particularly for the larger HBCUs that are research two that want to move to research one, providing more opportunity for them to be able to have research dollars to expand their portfolio.”
Improving the competitive advantage of HBCUs research institutions provides expanded opportunities for students as well.
Both Allen and Kimbrough also referenced a UNCF study about the impact of HBCUs on expanding the American middle class. According to the report, HBCUs serve a greater proportion of economically disadvantaged students than most other institutions but also facilitate upward mobility of the majority of their students.
The study also mentioned that HBCUs have a higher than average access rate, reflecting the number of students in the bottom two income quintiles per the report. Investing in HBCUs is one way of supporting students from low-resource communities.
“It really is an investment that we can track to say if you provide more resources for these institutions, we’re able to in to move people from the lower socio-economic levels to higher levels, which helps out the country as a whole,” Kimbrough said.