Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Power Play: HBCUs Seek Clout in Washington

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Power Play: HBCUs Seek Clout in Washington

Article excerpt

As president of Langston, a historically Black land-grant state university in Oklahoma, Dr. Ernest Holloway says it's gratifying that his school and the other historically Black schools covered by the Higher Education Act's (HEA) entitlement grant programs have seen consistent increases in HEA program monies over the last few years. Though pleased with the reception the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress have shown the Black college community, Holloway knows deep down that federal resources invested in HBCUs remain far below their potential.

"Dollars are being spent in higher education everyday, and we're still getting a small part of the pie," he says. "With the little increases we're getting, it's still not a representative share of the pie as far as I'm concerned."

In a time when state higher education budgets have been shrinking and the climate for private colleges has toughened so much to currently threaten at least two HBCUs with permanent closure, leaders of the nation's historically Black institutions have increasingly turned to the federal government for support and assistance. That focus by Black college leaders has also meant that the landscape of representatives lobbying on behalf of HBCUs in Washington has grown complicated.

Ten years ago, just prior to the Republican takeover of the Congress, the key players representing Black colleges were the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the Office for the Advancement of Public Black Colleges at the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC). Back then, members of the Congressional Black Caucus exerted considerable sway over the congressional budget process that resulted in funding for Black colleges and universities. Through the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which is based at the U.S. Department of Education, Clinton administration political appointees helped facilitate friendly access for HBCU officials to the federal agencies and departments.

In 2004, the Washington landscape has been altered not only due to the Republican control of the White House and the U.S. Congress, but also due to the emergence of newer players, such as the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, and powerbrokers, such as former congressman J.C. Watts, an influential African American leader in Republican leadership circles. In addition to developing programs through big-picture legislation, such as the HEA, individual schools as well as the Black college organizations have hired lobbyists to seek "earmarks," a term which refers to the funding that goes to special projects written into legislation during the congressional appropriations process.


One of the more closely watched developments in the Black college community with regard to whether its clout grows in Washington will be the performances of Dr. Michael L. Lomax and Lezli Baskerville, respectively, the newly installed president-CEOs of the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. For UNCF, the appointment of Lomax, the former president of Dillard University, represents a move by the 38 member colleges and its leaders to entrust its leadership to a seasoned former college head who's demonstrated fund-raising prowess and the visionary leadership critical to UNCF's position as the leading proponent of African American success in higher education. For NAFEO, which is the political advocacy arm of 118 historically and predominantly Black schools, Baskerville is a proven Washington-based lobbyist who's expected to build the organization's political strength in Washington.

"I am very optimistic about what these new leaders will do to enhance the position of Black colleges and universities," says Dr. John Waddell, president of St. Paul's College in Virginia. …

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