Can the Trump Administration Make Good With HBCUs?
President Trump has signed a nationally publicized executive order that moved a small Federal office responsible towards Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) from the Department of Education to the White House. This was not the first presidential executive order focused on HBCUs, and it will not be the last in my lifetime.
Like the previous executive order issued by President Obama seven years ago, this one does not commit to additional funding or student financial aid for HBCUs. But Trump’s current executive order as well as Obama’s previous one, commit to aiding these schools to help them to secure more government contracts, infrastructure funding and Federal research dollars. Previous presidents from both parties have also issued similar executive orders related to HBCUs.
Basically, this executive order states: “If there’s an existing program that can help you, we’ll point you in the right direction to get the money.”
That’s the same commitment that your Representative in Congress or the Senators from your state make to any constituent, whether it is a person, business, local or state government or a university. Multiply that by each member of Congress who is an alumnus of a HBCU or has one in their district or state and you will get closer to the true level of support that all of these schools will need to get the money that they need as well as help with regulatory changes to the Pell Grant that they want.
There has been a bi-partisan HBCU Caucus with 55 members from both houses in Congress for the past two years. The Caucus guided the passage of a bill last summer that improved institutional access to an loan guarantee program for infrastructure financing for HBCUs—a Federal program that has been in existence since 1992. This program provides just over $1 billion to HBCUs, the typical loan being between $10 and $20 million. In their response to President Trump’s executive order, the HBCU presidents requested $25 billion. The only way that these schools get closer to that amount is if more Representatives and Senators join with members of the existing caucus, especially the Republican Senators who come from the 19 states that host HBCUs.
President Trump failed to mention the HBCU Caucus when he announced the signing of his executive order although Caucus members were present at a forum that took place before the president signed his executive order. He might have believed that his executive order will be enough to get the executive branch to become more responsive to the needs of HBCUs. Or he simply did not know that the Caucus existed. Or maybe he didn’t care; the majority of Caucus members are Democrats.
But its doubtful that a White House that has openly bragged about “draining the swamp” and cutting Federal spending will be as responsive to HBCUs as well as the members of the HBCU Caucus could be, presuming that the Caucus could line up more Republican support to help these schools. A president can spend only what Congress allows him to spend.