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HBCUs serve different purposes for different people. For some students, who might otherwise have gone off to one of the Ivy League schools, they offer a nurturing sanctuary where young people can strengthen and hone great leadership skills. For others, whose higher education options are limited, these institutions help them build the skills necessary to successfully complete college-level coursework and compete effectively in the world.
The United Negro College Fund, which provides financial assistance to minority students and capacity-building services to member institutions, laid out an ABC Agenda for Higher Education on Wednesday during its National HBCU Week Conference. The agenda is a priority list of measures that UNCF plans to push to the next Congress and new president.
“Education begins with the ABCs, and so should making education policy,” said UNCF president and CEO Michael Lomax. “With the elections that will choose our leaders just 60 days away, this is a time to set the goals against which we can measure what we can accomplish starting next January.”
A stands for Access and Affordability. UNCF is calling for increases in Pell Grants and increased tax credits for college tuition. It is a well-documented fact that many students graduate from college with an exorbitantly high level of debt, sometimes for different reasons. “Hard economic times, rising college tuitions, and a tightening credit crunch spell trouble for low- and moderate-income families and students,” Lomax says. But in an anecdote that highlighted the serious financial dilemmas students can find themselves in, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) spoke of how despite his having financed all of his youngest daughter’s college needs, including a car and an apartment, she still ended up $40,000 in debt. UNCF is lobbying for programs offered in middle and high school that will give students the financial literacy skills they need to begin saving for tuition and become thoughtful borrowers.
B is for Building Educational Capital. Lomax believes too many people undervalue HBCUs. “We need to remind the country, and keep reminding [it], of what a priceless asset it has in historically black colleges and universities,” he said, citing a recent National Science Foundation study that found that black PhDs in science and engineering are just as likely to come from HBCUs as from prestigious private colleges and state universities. Ironically, he added, NSF funded this study, but doesn’t provide nearly as much funding to HBCUs as it does to other institutions. “We need to make sure the nation understands the asset that it has in HBCUs and invests in them.”
Lastly, C is for Community Engagement, which UNCF says is needed to animate a new generation of young Americans to roll up their sleeves and get involved in such issues as poverty and health disparities. The organization is working with ServiceNation, a national grassroots movement to build public support for a national service act.
The Congressional Black Caucus has formed a House HBCU Caucus to help champion the cause of black colleges and universities in Congress. Its co-founder, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), said