U.S. Congressmen Urge More Federal Support for HBCUs
Building preservation, financial aid, main topics at town hall meeting
By Scott Dyer
Historic preservation of buildings on historically Black college campuses and increased financial aid for students were the main topics at a recent town hall meeting on the future of HBCUs.
The meeting, held on the campus of Grambling State University, was attended by several U.S. congressmen, including Rep. Rodney Alexander, D-La.; Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House Democratic Leader’s African American Workgroup (LAAW); Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; and Rep. Chris John, D-La.
The meeting was held to discuss the future of HBCUs and the need for raising the level of financial support for students at these schools. At Grambling, for example, about 95 percent of the students receive some form of financial aid. Participants also noted that federal funding is needed to repair many of the buildings on HBCU campuses.
“The main thing was to make sure that people there knew that they have five buildings on the Grambling campus that are eligible for federal funds because they could be designated as historical preservation buildings,” said Alexander whose Congressional district includes the historically Black university.
A White Democrat, Alexander received heavy Black voter support last fall to help overcome a Republican opponent whose campaign was bolstered with visits from President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Midway through his first term, Alexander is working with the CBC to obtain additional funding to help fix up historical buildings that have fallen into disrepair on HBCU campuses across the country.
The CBC is hoping to get $10 million in next year’s federal budget to help restore the historical buildings. The money would be dispersed in the form of grants that would require a 30 percent match.
The House-passed budget contained only $4 million for restoration efforts, but proponents of the plan are still hoping to get the full $10 million on the Senate side, according to Alexander’s press secretary Ellis Brockman.
Rep. Clyburn noted that a 1998 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) identified 713 historical buildings and sites on 103 historically Black campuses, including the five buildings at Grambling.
The GAO report estimated the cost of restoring all 713 sites at about $755 million, and estimated the cost of renovating the five Grambling buildings at about $5.77 million.
Grambling spokeswoman Vickie Jackson identified the five historical buildings at Grambling as the women’s gym; Long-Jones Hall, which is used for administration offices; Jewitt Hall, a dormitory for female honor students; the old president’s home, known as the Founder’s Home; and Lee Hall, currently used for financial-aid offices.
In addition to refurbishing the historic buildings, Clyburn said he would like to see HBCUs get more involved in federal research programs.
Clyburn noted that a recent grant to study African Americans was awarded to a California school, but should have gone to an historically Black school like Grambling.
Federal Pell Grants were also discussed during the Grambling town meeting.
While the Black Caucus is trying to raise the maximum paid for federal Pell Grants from $4,050 to $5,100 per student, some conservatives are trying to cut Pell Grant funding, Alexander said.
“To say that we’re going to chop $1,000 off Pell Grants, that’s a lot of money,” Alexander said. “A $4,000 Pell Grant today won’t do a whole lot with tuition as high as it is and the cost of living.”
Alexander said Pell Grants need to be expanded to ensure that needy students have access to higher education.
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