First Black President Cuts HBCU Funds

First Black President Cuts HBCU Funds


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Support for Black higher education is one of the rare issues around which southern white Republicans and members of the Congressional Black Caucus often find common ground. North Carolina is home to 11 HBCUs. . . .Republican Senator, Richard Burr, wonders how Obama managed to find $9 million to fund a museum on the history of the whaling industry



First Black President Cuts Funds for Black Higher Education

By Glen Ford


Barack Obama encourages people to believe that he deserves to be remembered as the “Education President.” However, Obama will definitely not go down as a friend of historically Black higher education. Historically Black colleges and universities – HBCUs – take a $73 million hit in Obama’s educational budget. The cuts are even more disturbing, since education as a general category is a big winner in the president’s economic stimulus plan.

Obama’s people claim that an increase in maximum Pell Grant monies for low-income students will help all educational institutions, including historically Black ones. But that’s not quite true. Even if every one of the 132,000 Pell Grant students that attend HBCUs collected the maximum $200 extra dollars in Obama’s budget, that would only make up for one-third of the administration’s cuts to the Black schools. In other words, Obama’s slightly rising tide of Pell Grants will not sufficiently lift historically Black higher education boats.

The $73 million loss would have an outsized impact on the 105 Black institutions, many of which are on perennially shaky financial ground, and all of which have been hit hard by the current economic crisis. Although Black schools make up only three percent of total U.S. college enrollment, they account for one out of every five undergraduate degrees awarded to African Americans. It would be difficult to find any place in the federal budget where $73 million has a more concentrated impact on the fortunes of a particular ethnic group.

A direct comparison might be made with colleges that traditionally serve large numbers of Hispanic students. However, the Obama budget actually increased direct federal aid to these schools, from $93 million to $98 million. Native American higher education, on the other hand, gets the “Black” treatment: a decrease in federal funding to Indian schools.

The Obama administration’s callous disregard for Black colleges is even more curious, considering the president’s constant quest for areas of bipartisan consensus. Support for Black higher education is one of the rare issues around which southern white Republicans and members of the Congressional Black Caucus often find common ground. North Carolina is home to 11 HBCUs. The state’s Republican Senator, Richard Burr, wonders how Obama managed to find $9 million to fund a museum on the history of the whaling industry, but makes devastating cuts in Black higher education.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Many Black colleges were the products of philanthropy, and depend on it, still. But philanthropy is way down, which has pushed many Black institutions even closer to the edge.

President Obama should also be given a brief refresher course in the history that makes direct aid to Black schools necessary. Blacks were deliberately shut out of most higher education for almost the entirety of United States history. For that reason, Black institutions operate under specific disadvantages, while shouldering oversized responsibilities. There is nothing “race-neutral” about it. Past and present racial realities require that Obama give up the money.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

 Source: BlackAgendaReport

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Other Reports

Black Colleges Will Fight Cut to Federal Program— President Barack Obama’s education budget, unveiled Thursday, included major spending increases in many areas but didn’t include an extra $85 million that Black institutions have received annually for the past two years thanks to a 2007 change to the student loan laws.

That two-year-old program provided direct funds to federally recognized historically Black colleges and universities.

Other direct federal support to the schools would increase from $238 million to $250 million, but with the expiration of the HBCU fund the schools effectively would see a $73 million cut.

A program supporting Native American tribal colleges would also see decreased funding, while one for institutions serving large numbers of Hispanic students would see an increase from $93 million to $98 million.

Education Department officials emphasized that all such institutions stand to gain from other parts of the budget, notably the proposed increase in the maximum Pell Grant for low-income students by $200 to $5,550.

Still, the move could suggest that even as the administration pushes big education spending increases focused on low-income and minority students, direct support for institutions isn’t the most favored method. The HBCU program is unusual; most federal help for higher education goes to students, and thus only indirectly to schools. DiverseEducation

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Lawmakers frustrated over Obama plan to cut funds for black colleges— Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who has 10 historically black colleges in his state, suggested that the program is far more worthy of federal dollars than other programs Obama is willing to fund. “Cutting this critical HBCU program while at the same time continuing to fund programs such as the historic whaling partnership program raises the question of the priorities of this administration,” Burr said, referring to a $9 million program to promote whaling history in Massachusetts. The White House said the increased Pell Grants will increase federal aid to historically black colleges by $3.2 billion over the next decade. A spokesman also said that the president isn’t cutting a program but is allowing it to expire as scheduled. “This year’s budget provides increased funding to schools that serve this community through programs specifically for HBCUs as well as increases in Pell Grant funding which is received by more than 50 percent of students who attend HBCUs,” said White House spokesman Corey Ealons. The HBCU program’s supporters said it’s one of the few that helps the colleges address a variety of needs, including keeping tuition costs low, defraying upkeep costs and helping fund research grants. Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, noted that Obama as a senator in 2007 joined the Democratic-led Congress in supporting an increase in funding for the historically black colleges and universities and other schools that serve minority groups. “These are communities of students and institutions that need these funds in very difficult economic times,” Lomax said. “Now is the worst time to cut them.” Key CBC House members are trying to work with their colleagues and the administration to find a solution. TheHill

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“President Obama should also be given a brief refresher course in the history that makes direct aid to Black schools necessary. Blacks were deliberately shut out of most higher education for almost the entirety of United States history. For that reason, Black institutions operate under specific disadvantages, while shouldering oversized responsibilities. There is nothing “race-neutral” about it. Past and present racial realities require that Obama give up the money.” —Glen Ford, “First Black President Cuts Funds for Black Higher Education”


Dear Glen Ford,

If President Obama is detached from the history of black higher education, that should surprise no one.   Neither he nor his ancestors have any ties to “traditionally black education.”   My father graduated from Morehouse in 1932, and my mother studied to become a registered nurse in a program for Colored girls at St. Mary’s infirmary in St Louis.  While I have no personal ties to traditionally black (segregated) institutions of higher education, I have a family history of such ties.   Like most black folk, I identify sentimentally with the Obamas, but I recognize that the Obamas cannot be role models for the majority of black Americans, because very few black Americans will ever play roles involving admission to Princeton, Columbia, or Harvard.  While some African Americans have family heritage links to places like Fisk or Tuskegee, Obama is far removed from this history.  So are many other blacks, who attended working-class, public “streetcar colleges” in the North.

Wilson J. Moses Professor of HistoryPennsylvania State University


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Dear Prof. Moses, As you are of course aware, African American higher education opportunities were proscribed to various degrees everywhere in the United States; it was not just a southern phenomenon. The legacy of systematic racism is pervasive, and hostile forces continue to design and refine ways to oppress Blacks as a group (most dramatically, through the criminal justice system). Obama knows the facts, but rejects the (group/class) remedies. He is not a friend. Sincerely, Glen

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Dear Glen,

Yes, you are correct.  And there have been black colleges in the North, as well, e. g., Lincoln and Cheney State, here in PA.   In Detroit, Marygrove College, which used to be lily white, has evolved into a black, although not “traditionally black” college.  Nashville is interesting:  Tennessee State is “traditionally black,” is still 84% African American.  Fisk is an economic disaster.  Vanderbilt has an Afro-Trinidadian holding the Andrew Jackson chair, named for a slaveholder.  What an irony!

Black educational opportunities were limited in Detroit, where I grew up, although Wayne State University, which I entered in 1960, was a streetcar college with a 14% black enrollment, i.e., close to 6000.   Tuition was $80 per semester.  Highland Park Community College had even lower tuition.    Only elite Negroes went to Fisk and Howard, for the costs of attending those schools were prohibitive to the children whose parents were factory workers or public employees.  We would not have been able to attend college at all, were it not for public education.  We were all working class, but graduated without a penny of debt.

What is the difference today?  Very simple Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush.  Inexpensive education has disappeared from the American scene.

The Obamas have no family roots in the black education system. Michelle was first generation, but started at Princeton.  Barry’s father was an African who came here to attend Harvard. 

Have you seen recent issues of The Black Scholar, and Journal of African American History?  Both publications are clear on the point that the Obama election cannot address systemic racism and class oppression.  But to me that point was always obvious.  The sole function and ultimate purpose of government, as Adam Smith and V. I. Lenin said is to protect property and to oppress those who do not have it.

I sent Nader a token donation, but did not vote for him; I sent a lot more money to Obama, and voted for him, although I knew all along that Obama was going to “play ball”—just as the Clintons did. Wilson

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posted 17 May 2009




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