Presidential Candidates Make Higher Education Rounds
Evelyn, Jamilah, Black Issues in Higher Education
Higher education finally took center stage in the presidential election last month when Republican nominee George W. Bush made a campaign stop at historically Black Dillard University and Democratic nominee Al Gore visited the University of Maryland.
Setting his sights on pulling Louisiana back into the Republican fold for the first time in a presidential election since 1988, Bush discussed his education platform and also sought to reach out to minority groups during his visit to Dillard and New Orleans.
His most notable announcement was a proposal to increase federal aid to minority-serving institutions to a sum of more than $600 million over five years. Bush said he would increase federal aid to 104 historically Black colleges to $320 million per year over five years, up from the current $180 million per year. Under the same proposal, aid to the 195 Hispanic-serving institutions would be increased to $80 million per year from $42 million, also over five years.
Bush also called for a $1 million increase in the federal Pell grant program that would allow an extra $1,000 for students who achieve in advanced math and science courses.
"It's hard not to think that's a good idea," says Dr. Michael Lomax, Dillard's president, who says he has invited both candidates to come to the school. "Obviously increases in Title III and enhancements in Pell are both timely and important for our institutions. I hope the forum gave greater visibility to these issues."
Also in attendance was Dr. Norman Francis, the 32-year president of nearby Xavier University. Francis pitched his idea that students in their first two years of college would be better assisted by increased grant opportunities than by taking out more loans, since the lighter financial burden would improve their chances of finishing college.
Only a handful of students were allowed to attend the forum, which featured about 100 school officials, politicians and other dignitaries.
Freshman Silika Simmons, 18, of Dallas, was among those who had hoped to see Bush in person but didn't get the chance. Simmons says she was glad Bush came to speak about education and minority issues, but wondered if the message would be sincere.
"Now since it's election time, it's kind of wishy-washy," Simmons says. "It might be genuine. But he might be doing it for votes."
She also doubted many Dillard students would vote for Bush, who was accompanied during his visit by U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla.
"There's probably only one or two Republicans in the whole freshman class," Simmons says.
Bush's visit and increased attention to Black college issues comes on the heels of Watts' Republican HBCU summit, which raised eyebrows earlier this summer and drew backlash from Democratic legislators who balked at their exclusion (see Black Issues, Aug. …