Concerned alumni, students, friends and presidents of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) urged Congress to do three key things that would keep the institutions from collapsing.
The HBCU National Day of Action, organized by the HBCU Collective, kicked off Thursday with dozens of advocates on Capitol Hill stating plainly what black colleges need to survive.
“None of us are here today to ask for pity, we are here to talk about partnerships,” said Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell. “We need year-round pell grants. If our students can go to school year-round they will complete faster, graduate faster and they will become tax payers at a higher level than they are today.”
Sorrell said in order for progress to happen, Congress must change the way it considers students at black institutions.
“There has to be a change in how you view us and how you view the communities we represent,” he said. “We represent the students from the inner cities of our country to the rural areas of our states.”
Secondly, Sorrell and colleagues are advocating for reform to student loan interest rates that often cripple students after graduation.
“We need to tie the student loan rates to the interest rates of the federal reserve,” he said. “What that means is that our banking institutions can no longer charge us a higher rate than the federal reserve charges us, which can save hundreds of thousands in interest payments.”
David Wilson, president of Morgan State University in Baltimore, said Congress should make Pell Grants year-round, as well as increase the amount.
“At Morgan, 56 percent of my students qualify for Pell and 36 percent for the maximum,” Wilson said. “I rarely have a bad day, but I have two every year and those bad days occur when we have to tell 300-400 students who are making meaningful academic progress that they have to go home. That should not happen in America.”
Wilson said that his school is severely underfunded in comparison to its white counterparts, a sentiment echoed by Sorrell.
“We need more equitable access to research dollars,” Sorrell said. “If the University of Texas gets billions of dollars in research funds, Texas Southern gets millions and that trend continues decade after decade, year after year, what would happen to the possibilities of the students at Texas Southern, Prairie View or at my own institution, Paul Quinn College, when we are shut out from those research dollars?”
With nine HBCUs currently celebrating their sesquicentennial anniversary of 150 years, Wilson believes the time is now to invest in campuses that are integral to the history of America.
“We’ve been around for a long time and many of the structures on those campuses have been designated as historic sites, but when you go to some of those campuses, the buildings are falling apart,” he said.
“We’re saying invest in that in which you have said as a nation is a national trust for America. Invest in the infrastructure and buildings to have a world class educational climate.”
Wilson hammered the point that black institutions have been given crumbs for over a century and have succeeded anyway, but the time is now to receive long overdue resources.
“It is not an overstatement to say HBCUs brought into existence in America the black middle class,” he said. “And we are sustaining the middle class and we are doing it with just a fraction of the investments we see going into other institutions.
“Let it be known that Morgan State stands with our other 104 plus HBCUs in speaking very loudly and clearly to this administration and elected officials that we want equitable investment in our institutions,” he said.