The nation’s struggling HBCUs may have gotten an unwanted dose of reality recently from President Barack Obama. During a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama was critical of the business practices and structure of many Historically Black Colleges and Universities and gave a dire warning. According to attendees of the meeting, the president felt that HBCUs need to change the way they are doing business rather than focusing on federal policy. Specifically he made comments on graduation rates and loan policies.
Congressman Hank Johnson, D-Ga., a graduate of HBCU Clark Atlanta University, summarized Obama’s stance. “[The president said] there were some HBCUs that were not good at graduating students and if they did not improve they’d have to go by the wayside. In other words, he didn’t show much empathy for struggling HBCUs. It was like show me the numbers and if the numbers aren’t where they need to be, that’s it. It was a somewhat callous view of the unique niche HBCUs fill,” he said.
Under the Obama administration, HBCUs have seen cuts of more than $300 million in revenue due to changes in federal loan programs, contracts and grants. The hardest hitting of these policies were changes to the Parent Plus loan program that weighs the credit rating of parents. Because many HBCU students come from low-income families, critics of the changes charge that the president is being unfair.
The CBC’s first vice chair, Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., also weighed in on the matter. “I was concerned about what the president said because it feeds into a narrative about the value of these institutions and whether they are equipped to educate our students and what the cost is for doing so. Many of these institutions have not had maintenance of effort on the part of states or the federal government and over time that wears on their ability to maintain standards or even advance beyond a certain level. It was very clear that he doesn’t have the same level of appreciation for what these institutions have done and could do in the future given the right support systems,” she said.
HBCUs received just under $5 billion from federal agencies, about 2 percent of a total $175 billion awarded to institutions of higher education throughout the nation.