Funding Cuts Put HBCUs On The Chopping Block
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We go now from the high court to higher education. President Obama has unveiled his proposed education budget. It calls for increased funding for a number of programs, but overall there were cuts in funding for historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs. A two-year-old program providing $85 million to black colleges and universities was eliminated by the White House. The tribal colleges also sustained a cut.
The funding was designed to be temporary, but leaders of these schools say they are going to challenge the Obama administration on this. Here to talk about what this might mean is Michael Lomax, the president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. Welcome, sir, thank you for joining us.
Mr. MICHAEL LOMAX (President and Chief Executive Officer, United Negro College Fund): Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: What is this money used for?
Mr. LOMAX: Well, first of all let's just recognize that it was about $500 million in additional aid given to minority-serving institutions two years ago as part of the College Cost Reduction Act. When the Pell Grant was raised two years by the new Democratic Congress, they also, in their wisdom, decided that institutions which have a disproportionately large number of low-income and minority students needed additional support to be able to meet the needs of those students by keeping their costs down.
And so $85 million was given to historically black colleges for two years, so for $170; $200 million for Hispanic-serving institutions, $60 million for tribal colleges. And that all added up to about 500 million. It was a two year sunset, and at that time, Senator Obama supported this vigorously. And this enabled these institutions, which have a disproportionately large number of low-income students, students who come to them academically not as well prepared.
They had the resources to better support them and to keep their costs down, and that's what these dollars are used for.
MARTIN: But traditionally, funding has flowed to the students, not to the institutions. This particular kind of funding mechanism is considered unusual…
Mr. LOMAX: No, that's not accurate because, you know, we've had Title IIIb, which supports institutions, historically black colleges, for decades. And this is funding which has been made available to these institutions to be used at the discretion of the president to ensure the academic and institutional integrity of the…
MARTIN: What exactly was the money used for, and what impact do you think this cut will have if it is sustained?
Mr. LOMAX: Well, you know, the cost of higher education is great, and institutions are experiencing increases in everything from light bills to compensating faculty. And so that's what these dollars are used for. They're used to keep the costs down and to ensure high academic standards at the institutions.
Pell Grants, which we have increased and which the president supported and we are very appreciative of, really that's access money for the individual -student. That student can take those dollars anywhere he or she chooses to attend.
MARTIN: There are those who would argue that perhaps the taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth. There was an Associated Press study earlier this year that looked at the graduation rates for 83 federally designated, four-year HBCUs and found that they had an average graduation rate of just 37 percent. And with statistics like that, there are those who would argue, is this really…
Mr. LOMAX: Well, the average graduation rate is about 43 percent, so that of the ones selected for the AP story, they were about six percentage points below, on average.
MARTIN: But that's well below the overall graduation rate.
Mr. LOMAX: That's an overall, five-year graduation rate, yes. We have institutions, historically black colleges, which have 80-percent graduation rates. And UNCF's position is that these institutions have been historically underfunded. They have a disproportionate percentage of low-income students who come to them academically not well-prepared. And that what this administration we hope will do is say that these are institutions, which if invested in more significantly, can perform at a higher level.
We need to invest in them, hold them accountable to increase their graduation rates and make sure that they're helping to produce the college graduates that this country…
MARTIN: To be continued, an important discussion. Michael Lomax is the president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. He was kind enough to join us from our studios in New York. Thank you, Mr. Lomax.