Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

DeVos, GOP Reach out to Historically Black Colleges

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

DeVos, GOP Reach out to Historically Black Colleges

Article excerpt

By Susan Svrluga The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - After Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Howard University this month as one of her first actions in office, a group of student protesters called for President Donald Trump to be barred from the District of Columbia campus and for the school to reject federal funding during his administration. It was a moment that showed the suspicion and hostility some people at a prominent and historically black university feel toward the new president and the Republican-controlled Congress. In the 2016 election, exit polls showed black voters overwhelmingly opposed Trump. But DeVos's overture was symbolic of a visible outreach from the GOP to historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs.

"This is important to me personally, said Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican from North Carolina who along with Sen. Tim Scott, R- S.C., plans to lead a discussion with more than 85 presidents and chancellors of HBCUs Tuesday at the Library of Congress. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are expected to attend, and DeVos will deliver the keynote address. The White House also is said to be planning an executive order related to HBCUs.

Advocates of HBCUs are mindful of skepticism about the outreach.

"It is unprecedented, said Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports HBCUs. "It's really, really bizarre, is the only thing I can say. It's so counterintuitive you can't make it up.

Taylor said he has spent a lot of time on the phone in recent days, talking with presidents and chancellors who are skeptical of the motives. "People said, What's this about? Is it just a photo op? . . . Is this some sort of a planned effort to convert our campuses to support the Republican Party?'

"People were really, really suspicious about it.

But Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, said that over the past 50 years, such schools have had bipartisan support. Funding levels have stayed relatively the same, by and large, over that time. Meetings with members of Congress happen routinely, she said.

Both Bush presidencies were supportive of historically black colleges, Gasman said. And every president since Jimmy Carter has issued an executive order about them. She was dismissive of the idea that Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison and an alumna of historically black universities, would be a powerful ally for the schools. "She may have gone to HBCUs, Gasman said, "but she really knows nothing about education.

Last month, billionaire Charles Koch, well known for his support of conservative political causes but also a major donor to education, announced he would give nearly $26 million to help launch a research center with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

During the Obama administration, HBCU leaders applauded the expansion of Pell grants and other steps taken to support access to higher education. But many hoped that the first black president would do more for their schools. Some were upset a few years ago by a decision by the Education Department - later revised - to tighten lending standards for parents borrowing money for their children's educations.

Student and parent debt and low graduation rates have plagued many of the schools, but university officials are ready to make their case for the importance of the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities in supporting and educating African American leaders. Three-quarters of all doctorates awarded to black people, three-quarters of all black officers in the U.S. military and 80 percent of black federal judges got their undergraduate degree at such a school, according to the Education Department. …

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