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Federal Cuts Would be 'Critical Blow' to Black Schools

NNPA News Service | 12/1/2011, 1:11 a.m.

A coalition of more than 150 black colleges and universities - including two in the District and one in Baltimore - are fighting to persuade federal lawmakers not to cut $85 million or more in federal funding for the colleges and their students.

The coalition, which collectively represents the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), are fighting proposals that will cut federal funds to HBCUs by $85 million or more and would zero out support for PBIs. Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, said that the loss of federal funding would be devastating.

"The colleges that would have to absorb these cuts serve students who employers are counting on as the next generation of engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors and nurses," Lomax said. "Their education is being threatened at the worst possible time--in the midst of an economic downturn that is already making it hard for them to stay in school and graduate."

The proposed funding cuts would come on top of $30 million in cuts already made in HBCU funding, officials say a move that would devastate black college nationwide.

Howard University receives hundreds of millions in an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress but there have been discussions in recent years among some Congressional leaders to end it. The idea of de-funding Howard has never gained traction, though, because the university has had powerful allies in both political parties.

Howard University is the only black institution that is "Research I" tier-level, which means that it gets millions of federal dollars for its projects that are sanctioned by the U.S. government. The University of the District of Columbia, and Baltimore's Morgan State University and Coppin State University are District government and Maryland -funded institutions, respectively, but receive federal money for national programs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and other initiatives.

A coalition - coordinated by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) - seeks to rally students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and all supporters of HBCUs and PBIs to petition Congress not to cut the deficit by disinvesting in higher education.
"Cutting federal support for HBCUs would shoot an already-weak economy in the foot," TMCF President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., said. "In addition to the students they educate, they impact more than 180,000 jobs, including professors, counselors, staff members and others. Local businesses and national companies depend on the money that the colleges, their employees, and students spend. Their total economic impact is estimated at over $13 billion."

NAFEO President and CEO Lezli Baskerville said U.S. presidents and the Congress historically have made funding HBCUs a national priority, understanding that HBCUs and PBIs are critical to stimulating the economy, preparing excellent, diverse, workers, putting Americans back to work, and meeting the human services needs of traditionally underserved communities.

"HBCUs are great national resources of leadership in the sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, education, health and the environment. They contain costs at a time when the costs of college are increasingly beyond the reach of the masses," Baskerville said."It would be disconcerting if Congress decides to reduce the deficit without raising revenues and by cutting funding for HBCUs and PBIs, the primary incubators of diverse human capital to make the nation thrive," she said. wi

(James Wright of The Washington Informer contributed to this story.)