Despite reports to the contrary, the annual White House summit for Historically Black colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, moved forward this year, minus numerous HBCU leaders and President Donald Trump himself.
The meeting took place amid simmering frustration with the Trump administration. Much of the frustration is due to what HBCUs consider little or no support from the administration, and what they call a lack of understanding of the financial straits some schools are facing.
There are other reasons why some leaders didn’t show up. Among them is Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Another issue is Trump’s questioning of the constitutionality of federal funding that HBCUs receive for construction projects. “It benefits schools on the basis of race,” the president said back in May.
At the time, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, called that statement, “stunningly careless and divisive.”
Still, some HBCU presidents and their supporters thought it was important to attend the meeting at the White House, including Michael Lomax, the CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and a key supporter of historically Black institutions.
“We went to the meeting with the expectation that it would be a substantive meeting,” Lomax said. “Unfortunately we didn’t have that kind of substantive discussion.”
Of the 107 HBCUs across the country, Lomax said only 29 showed up.
According to the UNCF, HBCUs enroll about 300,000 students nationwide. They graduate 20 percent of all African-Americans who attend college and produce 70 percent of all Black doctors and dentists, and 50 percent of Black engineers and public school teachers.
Trump’s proposed budget does not include enough money for year-round Pell Grants. It cuts funding for work-study programs by half and eliminates opportunity grants altogether, something many HBCUs said will be devastating to their students.
Right before the summit, Trump appointed Johnathan M. Holifield, a former NFL player turned business consultant, to head up an advisory board that will work with HBCUs.