Is the Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty for HBCUs?

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Jubilee Hall at Fisk University needs a $7 million renovation to replace pipes, wiring, lights, heat, and air conditioning that were installed in 1963.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN – Unless Congress provides funds to keep them running, the White House education budget eliminates 22 school programs next year that cost $10.6 billion. Other programs face deep cuts like college work-study that will be halved. The President’s education budget for 2018 is 13.6 percent less than this year.

About $1 billion of the savings will be spent forcing public schools to accommodate charter schools and another $400 million will provide vouchers to private and religious schools.

The picture for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is not good either. The President promised HBCU leaders who gathered in his office in February that he would make their schools a priority but there is no extra money for HBCUs in the 2018 education budget.

“Level funding is a win for HBCUs in a season where large cuts were made across the board,” said Johnny Taylor, President of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF). Taylor was referring to what are called Title 3 funds that specifically support HBCUs.

The text of the 2018 budget states on page 34: “The request for Title III maintains support for institutions that serve large percentages of minority and low-income students.”

HBCUs received  $502 million in 2016 under Title 3 programs. The 2018 education budget proposal has $417 million earmarked for HBCUs. That is a cut of almost 15%.

“The proposed budget would cut federal financial aid lifelines that thousands of HBCU students depend on to attend college and earn their degrees,” said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, President of the United Negro College Fund.

The SEOG program that awards grants to the neediest college students will be eliminated next year. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) totaled $1.47 billion in 2016-17. Zero dollars are budgeted for that program in 2018.

The administration also plans to cut $700 million in Perkins loans for disadvantaged students, cut $490 million from the federal work-study program, and end loan forgiveness for people who take jobs in the public interest.

TMCF ‘s Taylor says that relative to where HBCUs have had to start in past years, he thinks things are heading in the right direction.  “It’s a process,” Taylor said.

“The president has suggested a budget, but, under the Constitution, Congress passes appropriations bills,” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently.

Taylor would say the glass for HBCUs is half-full and he wants to work the ropes inside the Beltway to increase spending for specific budget line items over the summer. “This is only stage one,” he said.

As it now stands, about $4 billion in carryover funding for Pell grants is gone, while another $1.3 billion in Pell reserves will be repurposed. Still, $2 billion will be spent to expand Pell grants year round.

While some Title 3 funding remains the same, others like Title 111, Part A, has been eliminated. For example, the SIP program provides technical assistance to colleges that serve low-income students. SIP funding for each of last two years was $87 million.  No funds are earmarked for the program in 2018.

Master Degree Programs at HBCUs and PBIs (Predominantly Black Institutions) received $7.5 million last year. They will receive none in 2018. Cuts of $142 million and $120 million will be made to Obama education programs, TRIO and GEAR UP. TRIO assists low-income, first generation college students, and students with disabilities. GEAR UP is a partnership program with businesses and community organizations to provide scholarships to low-income students.

HBCUs’ R&D grants will drop from $34 million to $25 million. The $4 million allocated in 2017 for the preservation of historic buildings on HBCU campuses has been cut. Next year Jubilee Hall at Fisk University won’t get the $7 million renovation it needs.

There is one bright spot for HBCUs in the President’s education budget. While most programs either stay the same or decrease, Part D of Title 111, Capital Financing Loans, goes up by $31 million to $313 million.

This is good news for TSU that has begun an ambitious capital expansion plan that includes new dorms, a science building, and constructing a new stadium.

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