By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a roundtable discussion inside the Roosevelt Room of the White House with the Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The event included key figures like Dr. Tony Allen, Chair of the Board of Advisors and Delaware State University President, and Mayor Steve Benjamin, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Biden, humorously recalling their past collaborations, commended Allen’s contributions and emphasized the transformative impact of HBCUs. Allen, highlighting the unprecedented support from the current administration, lauded their $7 billion investment in the Department of Education. He underscored the vital role of HBCUs in enabling low-resourced African American students to ascend to the middle class.
“HBCUs produce 40% of all Black engineers in America, 50% of all Black lawyers, 70% of all Black doctors and dentists, and 80% of all Black judges,” Biden asserted. “And HBCUs are engineers of economic mobility helping to increase the Black middle class. When the middle class does well, everybody does well. The poor have a road up, and the wealthy still do well although they’ve got to start paying their taxes. That’s why it’s critical we invest in these universities.”
During the meeting, Allen revealed a list of recommendations, all centered on four crucial tenets set by President Biden and Vice President Harris:
1. Infrastructure Investment: This encompasses physical and technological infrastructure, aiming to align the quality of living and learning spaces with the top-tier education that HBCUs offer.
2. Research Capacity Building: Dr. Allen emphasized the unique expertise across diverse disciplines in HBCUs, with numerous institutions poised to attain R1 status.
3. Connected Pathways: The President and Vice President’s advocacy for industry collaboration ensures that HBCU students have genuine opportunities from matriculation to graduate studies.
4. HBCU Preservation and Growth: Given their pivotal role in African American students’ upward mobility, preserving and expanding HBCUs remains paramount.
Biden, resonating with Dr. Allen’s sentiments, spotlighted the substantial impact of HBCUs on various professional domains, such as engineering, law, medicine, and judiciary. He stressed that investing in these institutions is not only an investment in the Black community but a step towards fortifying the nation’s overall prosperity.
Addressing misconceptions about funding cuts, Biden reaffirmed his commitment to historic investments in HBCUs, including research allocations and significant increases in Pell Grants. He emphasized the necessity of advanced facilities, particularly laboratories, to bolster competitiveness in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.
Biden also touched on the urgency of supporting HBCU students through increased Pell Grants, reiterating their vital role in enhancing access to higher education. He said he’s worked for bipartisan support in helping HBCUs. “Just a few months ago, the Speaker of the House and I agreed to spending levels for the government. We were up right to the very edge, almost reneged on our debt, and — that we could fund essential priorities and still cut the deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade,” Biden noted.
“Now, a small group of extreme House Republicans, they don’t want to live up to that deal, and everyone in America could be faced with paying the price for that. They’re changing it. We made a deal. We shook hands. We said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and now they’re reneging on the deal, which is not much of a surprise these days. And the Black community, in particular, is going to suffer if that occurs. For example, a shutdown is going to risk nutrition assistance to nearly 7 million moms and children, and it’s going to disproportionately affect Black families.”
Harris, the first HBCU graduate to ascend to vice president, expressed her deep appreciation for the work of the Board. She underscored HBCUs’ role in cultivating academic excellence and their potential to drive innovation across critical fields, from public health to artificial intelligence.
Harris emphasized the need for diverse perspectives in shaping decisions about emerging technologies, highlighting the importance of HBCU graduates in these discussions. The vice president also stressed the relevance of HBCU voices in media, ensuring comprehensive representation in storytelling.
“I strongly believe — based on experience and knowledge about what our country needs, in terms of its strength and growth and development — that our HBCUs are extraordinary centers of academic excellence and must continue to be supported, not only because of the historical role that they have played in building and helping to contribute to America’s leadership and global leadership, but also because, as the President has said: As we look forward, we know that our HBCUs are also pipelines for very extraordinary young people to enter the fields of work that we require to cure disease, to create that which we have not imagined, to supply us with the innovative approaches that will allow us to continue to work on the strength, prosperity, and security of our nation,” Harris said.
Mayor Benjamin echoed the sentiments, acknowledging the significant challenges HBCUs face, including smaller endowments, infrastructure needs, and a predominantly Pell Grant-eligible student population. He praised the administration’s dedication to addressing these issues.
Biden and Harris both highlighted the profound impact HBCUs have on the nation, emphasizing their role as engines of progress for all American, with the president noting that most HBCUs are land-grant universities.
“Land-grant universities used to be robustly supported by their state legislative bodies. They would support, in some cases, up to 60 percent of the land-grant budget for that university,” Biden stated. “From 1987 to 2000, land-grant universities have lost — Black and white — more than $13 billion in investments from the state — from the states and government to help them. And that has exacerbated the problem — particularly for Black land-grant universities, HBCUs. Everybody does better in the whole United States when the potential of HBCUs is realized. Everybody. I make no apologies for the kind of effort we’re expending on HBCUs.”