By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
There is a critical and long overdue discussion about the fate of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) now finally taking place around the nation. Yes, this is the time of year where annual government allocations and budgets are debated, passed or adjusted to meet both federal and state priorities. The issue of higher education and the adequate funding for all colleges and universities is one of the most important budgetary matters in 2014, given the increasing costs of higher education. But for most HBCUs, the concerns today about annual funding are far beyond routine dialogue and consultation. It is now for HBCUs a matter of survival.
Given the outstanding academic achievements and contributions of the 105 HBCUs and 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) of higher education, finances should never be an issue. I am, therefore, joining the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) in issuing a national and global urgent call for increased financial support of HBCUs and PBIs.
It is a sad reality that too many people take for granted the legacy and continued importance of these particular colleges and universities. That is why African Americans must insist on proper funding for HBCUs and PBIs. If African Americans are not more vocal in expressing support for these colleges the stage will be set for more reduced funding of these vital
institutions of higher learning that have done so much to make the world a much better place.
I am always impressed with the dedication and commitment of NAFEO and its members to represent and defend the interests of our colleges and universities. NAFEO is the nation’s only 501 (c) (3), not-for-profit membership association of the presidents and chancellors of the nation’s richly diverse 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and approximately 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). NAFEO members are CEOs of 2- and 4-year public, private, land-grant, sectarian and non-sectarian, undergraduate, graduate and professional schools in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands.
HBCUs and PBIs represent 500,000 students, 53,000 faculty, and 5 million alumni worldwide. NAFEO member institutions educate disproportionate percentages of low-income students—in excess of 60 percent of the students enrolled at HBCUs are eligible for income-based Pell Grants. Because HBCUs educate disproportionate percentages of low-income students, they have designed, tested, and perfected a myriad of successful programs that increase the numbers of low-income students prepared for, entering into and graduating from HBCUs and PBIs.
At a recent meeting at the White House Skills and Education Summit, NAFEO President and CEO Lezli Baskerville challenged the summit participants to both increase the funding for HBCUs and PBIs and to see the clear strategic academic priority for strengthening HBCUs and PBIs in order to achieve President Barack Obama’s higher education goals for the nation.
Baskerville emphasized, “The ability of the nation to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of today and tomorrow depends to a great extent on our science, technological, engineering, agricultural, and mathematics (STEAM) enterprises and ability. We must train 100,000 new STEAM teachers over 10 years and create an American workforce and entrepreneurs prepared for a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. To have an America that is ‘Built to Last,’ President Obama projects that we need to increase the number of college graduates to roughly 60 percent by 2020, which equates to approximately 8 million more Americans with a 2- or 4-year college degree. To realize that goal, the nation must educate at least 2 million more African Americans with college degree by 2020 and many will be graduates of HBCUs and PBIs.”
Unfortunately at a time when there is a clear, demonstrated need for more funding for HBCUs and PBIs, the political will does not appear to be there at the local, state or national level. Therefore, it calls on us to inform all our elected officials that increased funding for our colleges and universities has to be a top priority. This is not an option — our future and the future of our nation depends on it.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at the following link: