WASHINGTON — Black colleges, which have been the focus of attention by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, will get a $35 million increase in federal funding under a spending bill Congress approved Friday.
The funding is part of a mammoth $1.3 trillion spending bill the Senate passed early Friday, narrowly avoiding a partial government shutdown. The House approved it Thursday.
President Donald Trump had threatened to veto the spending measure, but signed it into law Friday afternoon. Funding for the federal government would have run out at midnight Friday without the new spending law.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have vowed to push for more funding for historically black colleges and universities. There are more than 100 HBCUs across the country, most of them in the South.
“Despite enrolling roughly 300,000 students each year nationwide, HBCUs have faced significant funding challenges with some even forced to close their doors,” said Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, whose state is home to 15 HBCUs. “These schools provide a path for so many first-generation college students, many of whom come from under-served backgrounds.”
Last month, Concordia College in Alabama announced it would close this year.
HBCU presidents have raised concerns about aging infrastructures, declining enrollments and other financial woes. They have pushed for increased funding for Pell Grants, infrastructure projects, work study programs and federal contracts to black colleges.
“Despite the fact that they provide pathways of greater opportunity for thousands of students and contribute $14 billion to our economy annually, they continue to be underfunded and undervalued,” said Rep. Alma Adams, D-North Carolina, co-chair of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus, a bipartisan group of 72 members from the House and Senate.
The bill increases funding to HBCUs by $35 million from $245 million to nearly $280 million for fiscal year 2018.
HBCU graduate programs will also get a 14 percent boost from $63.3 million to $72.3 million, Jones said.
The funding boost comes in the wake of increased attention from Congress and the White House.
Lawmakers successfully pushed a bipartisan effort last month to forgive $360 million in loans to four HBCUs that suffered damage during Hurricane Katrina. The schools include Tougaloo College in Mississippi and Xavier University, Dillard University and Southern University at New Orleans, all in Louisiana.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, were among the lawmakers who pushed that effort.
Last month, a group of 12 Democratic senators, including Jones, sent a letter to appropriations committee members asking them to include more funding in the spending bill for HBCUs.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina hosted their second annual conference last month for presidents of black colleges and universities. Last year, more than 80 presidents attended the conference. The day before they met with Trump in the White House.
Last fall, the bipartisan HBCU caucus hosted its first conference and sponsored a panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual legislative weekend. Another conference is planned for this year.
“Congress has not only listened to the HBCU community but has also acted,” Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said in a statement. “HBCUs play an integral role in educating the next generation of leaders and shaping our nation’s and local economies.”