Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

State of HBCUs: Stakeholders List Financing Programs, Affordability and Leadership as Top Issues

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

State of HBCUs: Stakeholders List Financing Programs, Affordability and Leadership as Top Issues

Article excerpt

Many in and around the historically Black college and university (HBCU) community recently have publicly pondered the state of the institutions as a whole--and much of the narrative has not been positive. Between a dearth of confidence in leadership, a lack of advocacy at all levels, and local problems like declining enrollment and concerns over institutional ability to compete in an ever-changing higher education landscape, much of the public discourse about HBCUs has been less than optimistic about the future viability of these institutions as a whole.

Its very difficult to think about HBCUs as one unit, because they're so vastly different," says Dr. Ivory Toldson, deputy director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. "There are some HBCUs that are really standing out and some HBCUs that I'm really concerned about."

However, overall, Toldson says, "I'm optimistic about the future of HBCUs in general."

But this general optimism is not a sentiment shared by all.

Dr. William Harvey, president of Hampton University and chair of the Presidents Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, decried the lack of support from the federal government on behalf of HBCUs in a September speech in Washington, D.C. In his remarks to open the White House Initiative on HBCUs' annual HBCU Week, Harvey said, "We face enormous challenges. These are difficult times for our institutions, our students and their families."

HBCUs' statuses

In the 2014 State of HBCUs Report, a survey of 105 HBCU stakeholders, including 28 current and former presidents and administrators, respondents listed financing university programs as the top challenge faced by the HBCU community, with affordability and insufficient leadership/governance running close behind.

An early draft of the 2012 annual report on the participation of HBCUs in federal programs suggests funding to HBCUs has experienced a downturn, compared to all institutions of higher education, in recent years.

In 2007, HBCUs were awarded $1,253,719,673 in grants from federal departments and agencies, compared to $34,936,125,000 overall--3.59 percent of all funds awarded. Following a boost in 2008 to 3.74 percent ($1,376,998,620 out of an overall $36,776,779,000 awarded), there has been a fairly steady decline in federal funding to the HBCU community (with the exception of 2011) through 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.

According to Harvey, the impact of this trend has been felt on HBCU campuses.

"Federal support for HBCUs is showing an alarming downward trend, and our friends in Washington need to know that we are watching and counting," he said in September. "... Over the last several years, all of the major Title IV programs had modifications and adjustments which make it much harder for HBCUs to get funding. We all know of the Parent PLUS debacle that resulted in these loans to our students being down.

"Pell Grants to our students are down. Direct loans to our students are down. Graduate subsidies were eliminated. In addition to student support, overall support to Black colleges is down. All of these changes had a significant impact in terms of availability of funding for students."

Toldson says that many of these decreases in funding are the result of cyclical economic changes felt by the entire nation.

"In many ways, HBCU funding mirrors the economy, which was falling off a fiscal cliff near the end of the Bush administration, recovered through stimulus and reinvestment at the beginning of [the] Obama administration, however, has yet to make a full recovery," Toldson says. "I'm hoping that we can get those numbers moving in a positive direction, but as we examine the last five years, we need to look at the highs and lows to get the best perspective."

But many in the HBCU community have been disappointed by the Obama administration's lack of advocacy on their behalf. …

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