COVID-19 funding will save HBCUs like B-CU

Three years ago this month, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) graduates and their supporters booed the hell out of Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Former B-CU President Edison Jackson acted a damn fool, and the footage became a symbol of just how much the HBCU community wanted no parts of the Trump Administration or its pledged support to HBCUs.

In a span of the last four weeks, Bethune-Cookman University has received more than $14.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education through funding allotted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Students at B-CU will receive $3.3 million of the funding with the rest earmarked for financial relief of costs associated with pandemic-related closures and operational changes.

Wildcats rescued

The $14.6 million is part of  more than $930 million committed to all historically Black colleges and universities under the pandemic response stimulus legislation. But more importantly, the total reserved for unrestricted use by B-CU totals more than $11 million; an amount which exceeds  the $8 million that Bethune-Cookman President Brent Chrite said in February would be necessary to save the school’s accreditation.

“This administration is committed to the success of HBCUs, Minority Serving Institutions, and the students they serve. Each institution is unique and is an important part of this country’s educational fabric,” said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“By providing additional support to these important institutions, we can help ensure they
emerge from this crisis stronger than before. I encourage these institutions, like all others, to use these funds to provide emergency grants to students during this challenging time, and to expand remote learning programs and build IT capacity.

“These are challenging times,” said DeVos, “but if we take this opportunity to transform higher education to meet the demands of the 21st century, our nation’s students and higher education as a whole will be better for it.”

In theory, the government has saved Bethune-Cookman University.

Chance of Survival

Many of us who had seen for years that HBCUs like Bethune-Cookman would need saving tried to plead with the HBCU community  to be more politically savvy, to see a controversial administration as an opportunity for survival on the tail end of a harmful administration, and to stop allowing racism to be the sole factor in determining if schools would live or die by our own pride.

The HBCU community may not have listened to the advice, but a lot of important leaders in the community didn’t listen to their outrage.

And the boldness of that select few have paid off. In the dark months and possible years of pandemic response, Black colleges will have a real chance to survive.

An average $9 million payout to every HBCU doesn’t solve every problem, but it solves enough to suggest that none of the schools, in theory, should close by Jan. 1, 2021.

That payout, combined with Pell Grant expansion, forgiven Hurricane Katrina loans, deferred capital financing loans, the reauthorization of mandatory funding for HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions, helps to put the harm caused to HBCUs by the Obama Administration a little further away in the rear-view mirror and challenges misrepresentations in our communities about the relationship between Black colleges and the Trump Administration.

With all things considered, the last four years have been good for HBCUs, and the last four weeks have underscored that reality. To be clear, Betsy DeVos is not a Black history heroine, and the good for HBCUs has not erased the pain of White House-level racism  from our conscience.

Be in position

But the moral of the story is that for every meeting we criticized as a “photo opp,” for every appearance by a secretary or a president on an HBCU campus that we revolted against on social media, the price that the HBCU president and advocates paid has come back to the community in the form of billions.

Those billions have paid bills, enrolled students, and kept doors open that should have been closed 10 years ago. That approach should extend from HBCU presidents and chancellors working with congress to students and alumni working with city and state legislators in the same way.

Everyone, from advocates to alumni to activists, must be willing to work with politicians from both sides of the aisle. We should always be in a position to broker honestly with any elected official, and ready to tether our political power to their willingness to help expand that position.

In a game of deal or die, our leaders deserve a lot more credit for playing the game to win, and a lot more support from the rest of us heading into the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

Jarrrett Carter Sr. is the founding editor of HBCU Digest and a 2003 graduate of Morgan State University.

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