Finance

Dozens of HBCU leaders pen letter to Senate in support of Biden spending bill

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Heads of the country’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) voiced their full support for President Biden’s “Build Back Better” spending package in a letter to the Senate on Tuesday.

Having passed through the House along party lines before Thanksgiving, the Senate is the last hurdle the sprawling social spending package must overcome.

HBCUs, along with Hispanic-serving institutions and minority-serving institutions, view the roughly $2 trillion bill as a historic step forward.

“For more than a century, America’s HBCUs have provided educational excellence and access for some of our most vulnerable populations,” the group wrote. “While constituting only 3% of all colleges and universities, we still graduate nearly 20% of all African American students.”

To this point, a recent study from the United Negro College Fund found HBCUs are the “primary post-secondary driver for moving Black Americans from poverty to the middle class.”

Build Back Better, the higher education officials added, represents “a significant down payment on investment in an American future full of talented citizens who are not inhibited by where they come from or what they look like.”

In total, Build Back Better allots $10 billion for these institutions, with $6 billion to be distributed through the Department of Education’s Title III and Title V designations — mandated programs that aid colleges that serve low-income students and Hispanic-serving institutions, respectively.

The Education Department will also oversee $3 billion in competitive grants exclusively for HBCUs, that will give the institutions the ability to modernize facilities and upgrade research capacity.

An additional $1 billion will be made available through the Department of Agriculture for the same purpose.

Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University, who also chairs the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, told The Hill on Monday that advancing infrastructure and research capabilities were top priorities for the schools’ leaders.

“The living and learning spaces on HBCU campuses are in need of significant improvement. It allows us to compete on par with our mainstream peers,” Allen said.

“When you think about the quality of education that you can receive at an HBCU — that can’t be contested — but we have to look like the product we’re producing.”

The state of facilities at HBCUs gained national attention earlier this fall when students at Howard University — the alma mater of Vice President Harris — protested for weeks over unacceptable living conditions.

Allen noted that the problem wasn’t unique to Howard, explaining that his university has a list of deferred renovations that can’t be completed because of lack of resources that currently amounts to around $80 million.

The money from Build Back Better will go to combat this issue while also helping expand HBCUs research ability.

Currently, only 11 HBCUs have R2 research status, and none have R1.

Allen described changing that as a “focal point” for the White House.

For Build Back Better to pass through the Senate — a feat that will require the support of the whole Democratic caucus — it’s expected that the package will be pared down, though to what extent is unclear.

Tags Build Back Better HCBUs Howard University Joe Biden
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