Alumni, leaders and students of historically Black colleges and universities recently lobbied members of the U.S. Congress for increased support.
On April 27, the HBCU Collective, an advocacy group comprised primarily of graduates of Black higher education institutions, convened on the U.S. Capitol for a national day of action and visited representatives’ offices to talk about the importance of increased federal support for the colleges and universities they represent.
“Alumni and students play an integral role in preserving and growing our HBCUs,” said Robert Stephens, co-leader of the organization, before a gathering that included presidents Mike Sorrell of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas and Dr. David Wilson of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. “We’re here to make sure our elected officials see and feel the importance of HBCUs—and we’re here to hold them accountable for their support.”
Stephens is a graduate of Winston Salem State University.
There are 107 public and private HBCUs nationwide, located primarily in the South and border jurisdictions such as Maryland, Kentucky and the District of Columbia, according to data compiled by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCU students consist of nine percent of all college students, according to a 2015 study conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Prominent HBCU alumni include: the late Thurgood Marshall, the first Black to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court (Lincoln and Howard); Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) (Howard); filmmaker Spike Lee (Morehouse College); and the late Barbara Jordan (Texas Southern), who served in the U.S. Congress and was the first Black to deliver a keynote address at a major political party convention.
The HBCU advocates want Congress to pass a budget that increases financial support for HBCU students, increases access and funding for federal research grants and increases funding and assistance for facility upgrades.
“We care about the existence of our institutions and we are going to make sure elected officials do exactly what they promised and that is to support our HBCUs and their students financially,” said Dominique Warren, a Morehouse College graduate and co-leader of the HBCU Collective.
Wilson said that one of the toughest days of the semester is “when I have to tell 300-400 students who have worked hard that they have to go home because they don’t have the money to finish school.”
“It is past time for HBCUs to [not] get crumbs from the table but get a full loaf of bread,” he said.
Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) is the co-chair of a bipartisan caucus that supports HBCUs, along with Rep. Bradley Burn (R-Ala.). Adams told the crowd that Congress can help Black colleges, if it chooses to do so.
“If we can bail out Wall Street, we can bail students out,” said Adams, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from North Carolina A&T University. “We can’t just agitate, we have to organize to save Black colleges.”