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Prioritizing HBCU during the global pandemic and national recovery

On March 18, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence announced, “In the fight against the coronavirus, the Trump administration is not just taking a whole of government approach, but a whole-of-America approach.” Historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) are important contributors to our “all hands” approach to navigating our nation through these unprecedented times. Matching the urgency of the moment, the Trump administration continues to provide unprecedented support for HBCU.

Recall that just five weeks into his term, President Trump invited HBCU leaders to meet with him and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the Oval Office. After the meeting, Vice President Mike Pence, the president’s Domestic Policy Council and representatives from several executive departments and agencies hosted a listening session with over 60 presidents and chancellors of HBCU. Trump administration engagement with and prioritization of HBCU began early and is robustly sustained to this day. During fiscal years 2017 – 2020, discretionary appropriations for HBCU programs authorized under the Higher Education Act total a record high of over $2.5 billion.

Importantly, HBCU have not been forgotten during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Trump, created a relief package of more than $2 trillion. Under the CARES Act, HBCU are recognized for their disproportionate impact on our Nation. Comprising only about 2% of all postsecondary degree-granting institutions, HBCU received about 7% of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief funds. That’s nearly $930 million. An additional prime resource for assistance is the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which collaborates closely with the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to effect economic change and is committed to supporting HBCU’s as they work to plan and implement their economic development strategies. The bureau has $1.467 billion in CARES Act Recovery Assistance available to help eligible grantees, including institutions of higher education or a consortium of institutions of higher education, prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.

HBCU support under the CARES Act continues the Trump administration’s ongoing recognition of the extraordinary contributions these institutions have made, and continue to make, to the general welfare and prosperity of our country. Under this Administration, President Trump has signed bills that have secured the largest level of Federal funding for HBCU ever recorded. This includes signing the FUTURE Act, which provides $85 million in funding to HBCU each year, and the historic Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill), which provides more than $100 million to HBCU land-grant institutions to fund student scholarships, research, and centers of excellence. Crucially, the Department of Education has also relieved four HBCU from $322 million of hurricane relief loans.

Looking ahead to post-COVID-19 America, HBCU will stand in shoes not unlike their founders who conquered the challenges of establishing enduring institutions to meet pressing national needs. President Trump’s 2021 budget proposes important investments to sustain meaningful HBCU support, strengthening HBCU contributions to the national recovery and renewed American prosperity. The 2021 budget includes $749 million in discretionary funding to HBCU programs authorized under the Higher Education Act, an increase of $44 million compared to the fiscal year 2020 level. The 2021 budget also maintains funding support for HBCU grant programs, including direct funding to Howard University. Finally, the budget requests $50 million to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities at HBCU located in Opportunity Zones, which complements Opportunity Funds for STEM-focused projects that will help prepare the future generation of STEM professionals.

Without doubt, United States education and economic competitiveness challenges are exacerbated by COVID-19. The Trump administration is cognizant that those challenges are not fleeting and will require sustained public and private action. The Trump administration will continue to prioritize HBCU during and after the national emergency, recognizing their indispensable contributions to building an inclusive, competitive and enduring national recovery, post-COVID-19 and beyond.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. is the Chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Johnathan M. Holifield is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

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