Jesse J. Holland
WASHINGTON - The leaders of the nation's historically black colleges and universities got major face time in front of some of America's top companies, like Google, Starbucks and Walmart, on Tuesday at this year's HBCU Fly-In, sponsored by congressional Republicans.
They didn't, however, go back to the Oval Office for a photo op with President Donald Trump, who announced his liaison between the White House and HBCUs.
The HBCU Fly-In started last year as a way for the colleges and universities to meet GOP officials and find ways to work with the federal government. Instead of focusing solely on education policy and funding, GOP Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said the HBCU presidents asked for connections to companies that would be willing to partner with the schools and employ their graduates.
"We're looking for opportunities to better prepare our students in the work environment, so I think conversations with representatives from the corporate environment and feedback on what the world is looking for today is great information I can take back to my faculty and my students," said Henry N. Tisdale, president of Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Scott and Walker touted the changes since last year's discussions, including the restoration of full-year Pell Grants, which HBCU presidents asked for last year. Pell Grants are limited to students with financial need.
"A promise was made," said Ronald A. Johnson, president of Clark Atlanta University. "It took more than a minute to put together the actual plan, but at least summer Pell" — part of the year-round grants — "came out of that."
The event happened as the White House named Johnny C. Taylor Jr., the former head of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, as chairman of the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
"Since I signed the executive order establishing this initiative in my administration, we have made great strides in strengthening HBCUs, a cherished and vital institution in our country," Trump said.
There were more than 231,000 students at these schools in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Almost 80 per cent were black.
Total enrolment at HBCUs declined from 326,614 to 294,316 between 2010 and 2014, according to the latest information available from the Center. The percentage of black college students attending a historically black college or university dropped from 18 per cent of the overall total in 1976 to 8 per cent in 2014.
Last year's HBCU Fly-In included a photo with Trump in the Oval Office. Many of the presidents were criticized for posing in the photo by students and alumni on their campuses afterward. Trump got 8 per cent of the African-American vote in his presidential election.
"There was a lot of negative feedback, but at that time it was something we had to do," said Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina.