This is why HBCUs must engage

Filed under COLUMNISTS, COMMENTARIES

JOHNNY C. TAYLOR, JR.
GUEST COMMENTARY

As president/CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), I spend much time working to build strategic government alliances that extend beyond our traditional Democratic support.

Why? Look where America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are located.

Most of TMCF’s 47 member-schools are clustered in Southern and Midwestern states where the governor, both U.S. senators, both chambers of the legislature and most of the U.S. House members are Republican.

The next largest group occupies states that are under majority-GOP control.

Only three of our member-schools are in states and the District of Columbia that are completely controlled by Democrats.

Millions needed
Many HBCUs are in desperate need of operating dollars and serious capital infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Earlier this year, for instance, Grambling State University President Rick Gallot announced that his school will need to abandon the campus library – an unprecedented decision for a university seeking to expand its national imprint in research and training for its students.

Gallot’s announcement came almost exactly one year after Louisiana’s state auditor reported nearly $111 million in deferred maintenance at another Louisiana public HBCU campus, Southern University in Baton Rouge.

We must talk
The people who currently hold the purse strings, nationally and on a state level are, in most cases, Republicans. Yet, some will still suggest that we not even talk to them because of their party affiliation.

When the media released photos of our meeting at the White House with President Trump, some derided it as just a “photo-op.” Tell that to the administrators who were wondering how they’d possibly fill the gap in funding should their already strained budgets face sudden drastic cuts.

The payoff
We can’t pick and choose whom we engage with. We saw firsthand how positive strategic engagement paid off when I worked with our member-school presidents and chancellors to ensure that their federal budget dollars would not be cut in President Trump’s first budget proposal.

Working with the White House, through open communication and lots of effort, HBCU leaders and I delivered flat funding for HBCUs in the upcoming fiscal year budget. That’s a big win, considering President Trump proposed a 13.9 percent overall funding decrease in federal education dollars this year.

But that’s not the end. We must ensure Washington doesn’t cut the vital capital financing program that provides about $20 million a year to support more than $280 million in capital financing for our schools.

The need to work across the aisle extends beyond just elected officials. In January, TMCF announced a $25.6 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries. This was a direct result of proactive outreach I initiated with Mr. Koch, a man often associated with support of conservative and libertarian causes.

Shared concerns
What I found is that we share a deep concern about the impact of over-incarceration and lack of educational opportunities that disproportionately impact fragile communities.

Together in January, we launched a new, HBCU-based research institution known as the Center for Advancing Opportunity that is studying barriers to opportunity in those communities.

In reaching across the aisle, we should never forsake our historic alliances. But for the sake of the young people our HBCUs seek to educate, we must also realize the need to grow new and different alliances.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. is the president and CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the largest organization exclusively representing the Black college community. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnnyCTaylorJr.

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