As President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris transition into office, a new report analyzes the administration’s proposed education policies, specifically those that impact historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Despite enrolling over 300,000 students and graduating 25% of all Black bachelor’s degree earners, many HBCUs remain underfunded and under-resourced, according to the report.
“[HBCUs] play a critical role in evolving a diverse society,” said Dr. Hakim Lucas, president and CEO of Virginia Union University (VUU). The university’s Center for the Study of HBCUs produced the report. “Research shows that HBCUs graduate more Black professionals than primarily White institutions. There are many promising proposals in the new administration’s agenda — but there is a long history of broken promises and inequitable treatment when it comes to HBCUs.”
The six Biden-Harris administration policies highlighted in the report aim to increase federal Pell Grants, create Title I programs for postsecondary education, develop more research opportunities at HBCUs, build infrastructure, reduce debt and promote graduate program expansions as well as advance student success.
Dr. Terrell L. Strayhorn, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at VUU and the author of the report, emphasized that investing in Black colleges translates to “educational opportunity for all.”
“When you invest in HBCUs, you are investing in raising up the average level of education in all 21 areas where there are HBCUs,” he said. “You are increasing economic development for all those areas. You are stimulating minority-owned businesses because a vast majority of those HBCUs have business programs. Many of those graduates go on to own businesses that actually exist right in the neighborhood where they studied.”
Around seven million students receive Pell Grants per year in order to subsidize the cost of their education. Under a $30 million investment, the administration plans to double the Pell Grant’s current value of $6,345. With the increase, the cost of in-state tuition would be covered at 67% of HBCUs, according to the report.
Currently, Title I programs provide funding and resources to K-12 schools and districts with a high population of low-income students. Translating to higher education, additional funding could go toward supporting programs with the intentions of closing enrollment and retention rate gaps for Pell-eligible college students, the report notes.
With the cost of college increasing, the Biden-Harris administration aims to implement free tuition for families with a household income of less than $125,000 at public colleges and universities.
The report also suggests using an “income-based repayment system” to minimize payments of federal student loans. Under this strategy, repayment is eliminated for individuals who make $25,000 or less, while, for others, repayment is lowered to 5% of their disposable income.
Outside of financial issues, institutions also must ensure that all of their students’ basic needs are met, the report notes.
“[It is important to] make sure that individuals have access to high quality higher education,” said Strayhorn, who is also the director of the Center for the Study of HBCUs and a professor of Urban Education in the Evelyn Reid Syphax School of Education at VUU. “Make sure that those who go to college can complete college and that those who go to college have the resources to stay enrolled and pay for college.”
As for research, the proposed plan is to increase funding at federal agencies to provide grants to HBCUs, says the report.
However, institutions must have available spaces on campus to conduct research. The Biden-Harris administration plans to invest in HBCU infrastructure to upgrade existing facilities and laboratories as well as construct new buildings, according to the report.
Additionally, the administration intends to offer more federal support for graduate programs related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields as well as teaching and health care.
Lastly, $750 million would be set aside for Title III and Title V funds. This money, for example, could be allocated toward areas such as faculty and staff training and university-wide retention initiatives, says the report.
“I think that it is clear that we have the opportunity to really move the needle [with the Biden-Harris] administration,” said Strayhorn.
In addition to these proposed policies, the report also suggests having more advocates and HBCU-associated individuals as elected officials or lobbyists.
The Center for the Study of HBCUs plans to host upcoming virtual gatherings for higher education leaders to further discuss these proposed policies, according to Strayhorn.
“We are committed unapologetically to the HBCU sector, to the HBCU community,” he said. “We are also about trying to build a convening space where we can talk about scholarship, research and policy ideas in the spirit of sort of academic freedom, where you can talk about them, contest and challenge the worth of some ideas.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].