WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” proposes spending cuts that could have a severe impact on black colleges, according to advocates for those institutions.
The budget blueprint titled “America First” decreases Department of Education funding by 13 percent, leaving some programs that support minority students unfunded.
The $9 billion budget cut to the Department of Education includes a “devastating hit” for black colleges, said Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., co-chairman of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement that Trump’s budget hurts the African American community.
Trump’s budget proposes to maintain $492 million funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions, but drastically cuts the federal programs that serve these institutions and their students.
“This budget proposal is not a new deal for African Americans. It’s a raw deal that robs the poor and the middle-class to pay the richest of the rich,” Richmond said.
Adams, who founded the caucus in 2015, told Capital News Service that HBCUs depend on federal aid to fund programs like Pell Grants and campus-based jobs to assist low-income students with college expenses and avoid massive student loan debt.
In Trump’s budget, these programs either were eliminated or reduced significantly, resulting in a loss of at least $4.8 billion.
“It’s really not going to help these students and get them prepared,” Adams said. “It’s frightening.”
The federal budget proposal significantly reduced work-study, which Adams described as a drastic reduction because a number of HBCU students need the part-time employment to pay for daily expenses and tuition.
About 671,000 students used work-study from 2013 to 2014, according to a 2016 overview by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
“I had to do work study. I know how important that is,” said Adams, as an HBCU graduate from North Carolina A&T State University. She said many students receiving work-study aid come from low income homes.
The budget cuts contrast with the positive message about HBCUs the White House conveyed on Feb. 28 after a meeting between Trump and more than 80 presidents from black institutions. The president signed an executive order recognizing America’s more than 100 HBCUs and calling the schools a White House “priority.”
“We will pledge our support to you, your mission, and to our shared mission of bringing education and opportunity to all of our people,” Trump said at the signing.
The college leaders, along with partners from the HBCU-coalition, including the United Negro College Fund, attended a “listening session” with Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The schools asked for $25 billion in federal investments.
Instead, the White House initiative to promote excellence and innovation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities moved oversight from the Department of Education into the White House.
The transition is a change in leadership that Adams and her co-chairman, Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., are in favor of.
“The leadership, vision and federal support is being driven by the White House now, that was not true for the last eight years and I welcome that,” Byrne told Capital News Service.
Byrne said funding for universities serving people of color still will be administered by the Department of Education, but the initiative will be led by the office of the president.
Established in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter to strengthen and produce quality education for minorities, the HBCU program was moved to the Department of Education in 2002 by President George W. Bush, according to Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a member of the HBCU coalition.
Byrne said he is hopeful the budget cuts won’t pass in Congress, because there is bipartisan support for year-round Pell Grants and capital expenditures at black colleges.
“This is not a Republican-Democrat thing anymore,” he said. “They want to get some extra funding for services, we got some old buildings that are wearing out.”
Adams said another budget cut that could be damaging to black schools if fulfilled is the elimination of the $732 million Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program, which assists students in financial need.
A student can receive up to $4,000 a year with such a grant, and the money does not have to be repaid.
A 2016 report from the United Negro College Fund found that HBCU students borrow at higher rates and graduate with higher debt than those who attend non-HBCU institutions.
“Our students need access to financial aid so they are not burdened by crushing debt after graduation,” University of Maryland Eastern Shore President Juliette Bell explained. “Infrastructure enhancements, support for research and innovation, and year-round Pell Grants are some of the needs.”
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), an organization that provides scholarships and internships for African American students, prepared a 10-step memo for Trump in December recommending ways the government could support HBCUs.
The institutions face major challenges.
Minority families are typically unable to afford college expenses, so student loans are a necessity. In 2011, the median net worth for black households was only $6,314, compared to $111,500 for white households, according to the UNCF study.
Pell Grant funding for HBCU students grew from $523 million to $824 million between 2007 and 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Pell Grants are federal financial aid usually awarded to undergraduate students with a family income of less than $60,000 a year.
Trump’s budget blueprint would cut Pell Grants by $3.9 billion.
At the HBCU Fly-in on Feb. 28 at the Library Congress, attendees shared their concerns with members of Congress.
The Pell Grant expansion was favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
“I like year-round Pell. It makes a lot of sense,” Ryan said.
President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposed $85 million for HBCUs. Congress approved $79.2 million.
BRIANA THOMAS writes for Capital News Service