As expected, President Biden’s Build Back Better plan is stalled and forcing him to adjust his $3.5 trillion budget package. The anticipated shortfall will mean the promises made to historically Black colleges and universities are sure to be severely impacted. Already terribly underfunded, the HBCUs will be shortchanged if the negotiations now underway cut Biden’s request to a compromise of $2 trillion.
Lodriguez Murray, a senior vice president for the United Negro College Fund, expressed what many HBCU leaders feel about the setback. “We were terribly supportive because no president has ever…in the history of this nation, put these institutions so central to transformative change and investment,” she told the press. “For Congress to not follow through on [Biden’s] plan is earth shattering for the institutions.”
Murray’s concern was backed by a letter on Friday to Congress by the presidents of the UNCF’s 37-member institutions to pass the bill with additional provisions for the HBCUs. “Although HBCUs generate a significant return on investment,” the letter claimed, “they are historically underfunded, face discrimination with investments, and have higher budgets based almost exclusively on tuition from underserved students.”
These concerns will be voiced on Wednesday at a hearing by a House subcommittee on higher education—“Homecoming: the Historical Roots and Continued Contributions of HBCUs.”
In Biden’s original proposal $45 billion was earmarked for HBCUs and other minority serving institutions in order to improve and expand their research programs, as well as to facilitate a pipeline for students that has been historically plugged. Such institutions as Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas benefited from federal relief money funneled through the pandemic funds. “We used the funds that we received to serve the students that we have, and now we’re asking for additional funds to make sure that when we are on the other side of this global pandemic our institutions will be bigger and better and more resilient,” said Roderick L. Smothers, president of the college.
Now, with Biden’s proposal caught in a Congressional impasse, and his budget request facing a serious reduction, those at the bottom of money, like the HBCUs, are sure to feel the changes most desperately.