PRESIDENT OBAMA: HELP ME HELP OUR HBCUS
By Tom Joyner
Mr. President, I have been a major supporter of yours from the start because I believed you were the best person for the job because I never dreamed in my lifetime that this would happen. You’ve been doing an amazing job considering that you took over the country at a time when so much is happening. But I do have a concern about one of your recent decisions. I’m calling on you to listen to the tens of thousands of alumni, faculty, administration and students of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who want you to seriously reconsider your changes to the 2010 federal budget. We want you to extend the $85 million that was included in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 and is slated to expire in 2009.
I realize you’re dealing with a budget that’s in the trillions of dollars, but let me tell you, as a long time supporter and cheerleader for black colleges, literally every single dollar helps to keep their doors open at these institutions. This $85 million is absolutely crucial for many of the colleges to make sure every student attending these schools have the best infrastructure possible. That means these schools need the direct funds that the federal government has allocated since 2007 to help provide comfortable dormitories, fully furnished classrooms, research labs, libraries and so many things that contribute to these students getting a quality education. The fact is the funding for many HBCUs eligible to receive federal funds has not kept pace with the increasing needs for the institutions.
I’ve been reading about how you and Secretary [Arne] Duncan are increasing the amount of money for PELL Grants, which means more students may be able to get sorely needed dollars to attend college. That’s what my Foundation has been doing for the past 11 years, and the more help these students get to stay in school the better. Don’t hesitate one minute in providing those funds, but, Mr. President, you can’t have it both ways. If you cut funding that directly affects the operations of these HBCUs, then some of these schools may not be around to educate the students receiving those PELL grants.
Let me try to break it down even further. There are more than 200,000 students who are benefiting from getting an education at an HBCU. It’s safe to say that many of these students may be a first generation college student who may have never have had a chance to even get a college degree if it weren’t for an HBCU. Let’s be honest. Not every one can go — or get accepted — to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or some of the major colleges around the country. What I know from my own personal experience – and from talking to and getting hugs from the thousands of students, their Moms, Dads, PawPaws and MoMos over the years — is that many of these students are grateful to have had the opportunity to go to college. Period. What black colleges have given them is love, nurturing and confidence to take on the world. Just listen to what Dr. Billy Hawkins, president of Talladega (AL) College said during a panel discussion among black college presidents on my annual Tom Joyner Foundation fundraiser, the Fantastic Voyage(TM): “I worked 20 years at white institutions, but students don’t get the nurturing they get at a black college.”
But more than the touchy-feely stuff, black colleges are producing huge results. For example, here are some very impressive statistics from the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, better known as NAFEO: Twenty-four percent (24%) of all PhDs earned each year by African Americans are conferred by twenty four (24) HBCUs; Eighteen (18) of the top twenty-three (23) producers of African Americans who go on to receive science related PhDs are HBCUs; Four (4) of the top ten (10) producers of successful African American medical school applicants are HBCUs. These HBCUs produce twenty percent (20%) more African American applicants than the other six (6) institutions combined; Eight (8) of the top ten (10) producers of African American engineers are HBCUs.
Whenever I’m reminded of these statistics, I can’t help but smile. I spend a lot of my time sharing this information with the world because most of the time you hear only about how bad black colleges are doing. Grant it, I’ll be the first to tell you some of our black colleges are teetering on the brink of survival, but there are still many black colleges that are serving a critical role in producing future doctors, lawyers, teachers, athletes and engineers. Dr. Diane Suber, president of Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, NC, said she and her administration have to make tough choices all the time, and most importantly they realize they can not be all things to all people. “It’s challenging for us to remain competitive and remain true to our mission,” Suber said. “Our quality of education is not substandard. Yes, it could be better if we had more money, but we provide outstanding educational opportunities.”
So, I ask you, Mr. President, restore that $85 million today! This small amount is the kind of investment that will truly impact the lives of thousands of black men and women who will end up helping you bring about the change you talked about during your campaign.
Tom Joyner, host of the nationally syndicated radio show that reaches more than eight million listeners every week, is the founder and chairman of the 11-year-old Tom Joyner Foundation.