My job is to promote the interests of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. So naturally I was concerned when I heard earlier this year that the new Trump administration was planning to propose increasing defense spending by $54 billion and slashing nonmilitary spending by an equal amount.
That’s when the HBCU presidents, chancellors, and I decided to roll up our sleeves and get to work engaging the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled 115th Congress to fight and protect our interests. It paid off: In late February, after weeks of meetings and phone calls with administration officials, more than 70 HBCU leaders and I attended a listening session with top Administration officials, and a dozen returned the next day for a signing ceremony event at the White House, where President Trump signed an executive order recognizing the importance of our institutions. A few weeks later, the administration released its budget blueprint, which called for maintaining federal HBCU spending at current levels. Let me be clear: flat spending for HBCUs in a president’s budget that calls for a 13% funding decrease to the Department of Education is a win.
It’s clear that this Administration understands the value of HBCUs, which educate nearly 300,000 students a year, award three-quarters of all doctorates earned by African Americans and provided the undergraduate degrees of 80% of Black federal judges.
Not everyone is happy though. Some are critical of President Trump because they believe he should have significantly increased the budget for HBCUs. Such notions are naïve in the current political environment in Washington, now run by Republicans who’ve vowed to reduce the size of government.
There are some other important things to remember as well:
First, the president makes a ‘budget request’ while the Congress has to ultimately authorize and appropriate the funding for the actual budget. The HBCU community is working hard to ensure the president’s final budget request scheduled to be released in May protects HBCU funding. At the same time, we are engaging the Congress to not only protect the HBCU funding, but to also increase programs that are critical to our mission. This is the beginning of the process, not the end.
Secondly, the Adminis-tration has proposed to maintain (not to cut) the Pell Grant program. And while it is true the Administration has suggested reallocating $3.9 million in Pell Grant surplus funding, we are busy working with the Congress to use the additional funding to restore year-round Pell that was eliminated under President Obama.
Our recent visits to the White House reinforced my belief that we must seek an open dialogue that transcends partisan lines to ensure access to quality higher education for all our deserving young people. That’s why we’ve chosen a strategy of engagement, building relationships in Washington in addition to our traditional allies, such as the Congressional Black Caucus. We are working hard to reach out to key lawmakers in both parties, such as Republican Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Mark Walker, who hosted the fly-in for HBCU leaders in February. And we have developed a strong working relationship with the Administration, which has been, frankly, more accessible than the Obama White House, which often shortchanged our budget requests and seemed to fail to grasp the complexities of our mission.
I encourage all who support HBCUs to remember this is a marathon not a sprint. In addition to the upcoming fiscal year budget request, TMCF and our HBCU leaders have identified billions of dollars in additional needs over the next four or five years. We will get there through persistence, diplomacy and relationship building, not by attacking those who are eager to work with us.
(Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. is the president/CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community.
Prior to joining TMCF, he spent many years as a successful corporate executive and attorney. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnnyCTaylorJr.)