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Tough Budget Decisions Lead to Smart Outcomes for Florida’s Private HBCUs

While Florida has been leading the charge in HBCU funding, other states across the US are watching and learning.

Accolades to Gov. Ron DeSantis who may have helped solve a problem plaguing Florida’s private historic Black colleges and universities Bethune Cookman University, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University: filling the gap between what students receive in financial aid and the costs of attending those schools.

Give credit to the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators and the leadership of the Florida Legislature. They hammered out the details and tucked the $30.4 million appropriation in the state’s new $92.2 billion budget. While the governor faced tough choices in determining which programs to veto or leave intact, fortunately, the funding boost to the private HBCUs wasn’t one of them.

Yolanda Cash JacksonYolanda Cash Jackson

Florida’s three private HBCUs will receive a historic appropriation, which includes an increase of nearly $20 million. Florida is the only state to devote public funds to private HBCUs at this funding level.

The timing couldn’t be better as the coronavirus pandemic has hit private historic Black colleges and universities hard. Equally important, the appropriation is recurring money: administrators have a reliable revenue source to recruit and retain students.

The funding is a sound investment into higher education that serves a distinct and diverse student body that will educate the next generation of Florida’s workforce and our future leaders.

The three schools (Florida A&M University is also an HBCU but is part of the state university system and publicly funded) share a rich history. Edward Waters College is Florida’s first and oldest independent institution of higher learning. Florida Memorial University began in 1879 as a Baptist institute before having to move twice because of racial tensions during its 141 year-history. Bethune Cookman University evolved from a girls’ school in Daytona Beach by noted educator Mary McLeod Bethune, whose likeness will grace the U.S. Capitol as the first statue of an African American in National Statuary Hall.

HBCUs typically have smaller endowments and rely on federal Pell grants, student fees and auxiliary services as revenue sources. Still, they find ways to accept students from working-class and poorer households, many the first in their families to attend a college or university. Although these schools make up only three percent of the nation’s colleges and universities, they enroll ten percent of all Black students, produce roughly 20 percent of all Black graduates and a significant number of Black clergy, doctors, elected officials, engineers, jurists and teachers.

As institutions of higher learning, Florida’s three historic Black colleges and universities are too important to let lapse into obscurity. As Florida moves forward, these schools will continue to contribute towards a brighter and more informed workforce.

Thanks to the new funding, Bethune Cookman University, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University are now in a stronger position. As an individual who has long advocated for our state’s private HBCUs, the state appropriation is a big step forward for the schools and the state.

Other states can learn from Florida how to keep their HBCUs thriving as we move forward.

Yolanda Cash Jackson is a shareholder and lobbyist at Becker & Poliakoff and serves on the firm’s Management Committee. She was the lobbyist of record that secured the funding for the private Florida HBCUs.


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