Trump Gives Praise But No Money to Historically Black Colleges

  • HBCUs get less than 1 percent of federal funds for research
  • College leaders asked Trump to target grants, renovations

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump praised historically black colleges and universities and signaled that they’d be a priority for his administration.

This week, Trump followed his rhetoric by meeting with the leaders of more than 60 of the schools (called HBCUs), a gathering that also drew attention for the meme-able photo of Kellyanne Conway with her feet up on the Oval Office couch.

Trump, right, meets with HBCU leaders while Conway sits on Oval Office couch, on Feb. 27.

Photographer: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

Trump followed that meeting with an executive order designed to raise the profile of HBCUs by moving their oversight into the White House from the Department of Education. He stopped short of allocating any money for the schools or directing Congress to do so, as the leaders had asked. HBCUs represent 3 percent of all U.S. colleges by number but received less than 1 percent of the federal money that goes toward academic research in 2014.

"We are getting crumbs," David Wilson, president of Morgan State University in Baltimore, said at a panel in New York earlier this month.

The lion’s share of federal funds for research and development are disbursed by bodies such as the National Institutes of Health in the form of peer-reviewed research grants, but some money takes the form of contracts to carry out research for the Department of Defense, for instance. The Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University focuses on national security and aerospace technologies, for example; it received $1.23 billion.

Budget Hopes

The HBCUs also asked the president to include $25 billion in his budget request to Congress for the schools to upgrade their infrastructure or to renovate their facilities, many of which are historic sites. On Tuesday, the schools’ presidents lobbied members of Congress.

Trump hasn’t yet submitted his budget to Congress, and critics are skeptical of his commitment to education broadly.

"You get the positive PR from helping HBCUs, along with the vague likelihood of cuts in programs that will affect African Americans and other low-income students," said Robert Shireman, deputy undersecretary of education under Obama and now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. "There’s definitely reason to worry."

A White House official who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity said the president was looking at all opportunities to partner with HBCUs and that it would be premature to comment on the contents of the budget.

‘Seat of Power’

What the White House will do is move the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities out of the Education Department. The panel was created in 1981 by Ronald Reagan and moved to Education by George W. Bush in 2002.

"That is the most crucial thing," said Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents 47 publicly funded HBCUs. It brings the schools "close to that seat of power," he said.

The colleges, which were created in response to segregation-era policies that kept blacks out of “whites only” colleges, have less money than similar historically white institutions. For example, Spelman College, a women-only HBCU in Atlanta, has an endowment of about $350 million. By comparison, Smith College enrolls roughly the same number of women and has an endowment of $1.6 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

Monday’s visit was arranged by Omarosa Manigault, the one-time “Apprentice” contestant and now director of communications for the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. Manigault, a graduate of two HBCUs, Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and Howard University in Washington, is "our chief advocate and voice inside the White House," Taylor said.

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