Chair of Obama’s Board of Advisors on #HBCUs: “Disappointed and Saddened”

Chair of Obama’s Board of Advisors on #HBCUs: “Disappointed and Saddened”

The State of HBCUs.  On February 4 in Washington, D.C., Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey had a message for Dr. George Cooper, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, and the Obama Administration.  And if there’s one thing Dr. Harvey isn’t — it’s subtle. He gets right to the point.  

Dr. Harvey is the Chairman of President Obama’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs and has been the President of Hampton University since 1978.  He delivered remarks in Washington on the status of HBCUs in his capacity as the Chair of President Obama’s Board of Advisors.  

This is the full speech from President Obama’s HCBU Board Chairman

I want to begin by thanking General Bolden and the entire NASA community for hosting us today.  As I told General Bolden when we met a few months ago, I am enormously proud of his service to NASA.  As a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, I take special, personal pride in his accomplishments. And, as a university president, I appreciate the role model he is for so many young people.  So, thank you.

These are difficult times for our institutions, our students and their families – even more difficult than when we first began this journey together in 2009.  

I have to say that one of my biggest concerns or regrets is that we are not being used as the advisory board we are supposed to be.  All this expertise – more than 150 years at the helm of HBCUs, decades as the heads of major philanthropic organizations, expertise in business, in fundraising and in public relations, connections on Wall Street, in the Ivy League and everywhere else.  Yet, we are not consulted when it comes to policy changes and decisions impacting – in a major way – the institutions on whose behalf we are to advocate.

It happened with Pell.  It happened with Parent Plus.  And, now it is happening with the new community college initiative.  

Dr. William Harvey in 2013

Dr. Cooper, as Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, I hope that you are at the table when these policies are being developed.  The members of this Board of Advisors are very, very busy and have many, many commitments.  But, we have committed to time and resources to serve on the PBA because we think it is important service, that we can add value and that we can make a difference for HBCUs.  

My further hope is that someone will help us have a voice.  Put us in the position to advise.

While we don’t know a lot, because a lot is not shared, we do know that federal support for HBCUs is showing an alarming downward trend.  Over the last several years, all of the major Title IV programs had modifications and adjustments which make it much harder for HBCUs to get funding.  We all know of the Parent PLUS debacle.  These loans to our students are down.  Pell grants to students at HBCUs are down.  Direct loans to our students are down.  Graduate subsidies have been eliminated.  chart1In addition to student support, overall support to Black colleges is down.  

The National Science Foundation has compiled data on STEM funding provided to HBCUs and MSIs.  NSF’s December 2014 InfoBrief is attached to my Chairman’s Report.   According to it, “levels of support to minority-serving academic institutions in FY 2012 varied according to institution type, with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) seeing the largest drop (10%)….. This decrease was the second consecutive annual current-dollar decrease in HBCU funding, resulting in an FY 2012 total that is less than the annual funding in any year since FY 2000.”  Let me re-state that.  STEM funding to HBCUs is at its lowest point – by far – since 2000!

Also according to NSF, “four federal agencies provided 91% of federal [STEM] support to academic institutions: the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (58%), the National Science Foundation (NSF) (17%), the Department of Defense (DOD) (12%), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) (4%).”  Think about it.  There are sixteen federal agencies.  Four agencies have provided almost all of the STEM funds that went to HBCUs in 2012 (and that four includes USDA, which administers Congressional funds designated for 1890 land-grant institutions).

Finally, according to NSF, “the top 20 HBCUs ranked by federal [STEM] support accounted for 72% of the academic S&E total for HBCUs in FY 2012”.   In other words, the overwhelming majority of all STEM funds going to HBCUs goes to just 20 (of the 105) HBCUs.  

I am disappointed and saddened.  We need to go visit the other twelve agencies to see what the problem is and how we can help them better engage with HBCUs.  Maybe they don’t think anyone cares or is noticing.  Maybe they don’t know the many and diverse capabilities of our HBCUs.  Maybe they don’t know what other agencies have been able to accomplish and how.  Maybe they need our advice.  

I am committed to spending the remainder of my term as chair trying to get in to see the heads of those twelve agencies.   I hope that some of you will join me.

Let me turn your attention to another matter of particular concern to the HBCU community, that is the college rating system.  I think Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF president, summed it up quite eloquently in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Washington Post last month.  He said that the proposed system “could hurt disadvantaged students” and “threatens to divert attention from the real challenges facing colleges and universities that educate large numbers of disadvantaged students.”  Michael’s op-ed piece is attached to my Chairman’s Report.  

Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell have been very open and forthcoming about this matter.  Dr. Mitchell and I have discussed the proposed rating system on several occasions.  As a matter of fact, he has invited representatives from Hampton to receive a briefing so that we might get a better understanding.  Before I weigh in publicly, I want a better understanding.  I want you to know that I appreciate Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Mitchell’s transparency and full disclosure on the college rating system and hopefully they will be open to constructive input which could result in changes.

Many of my colleagues have called me to say that the “free tuition for public community college” initiative could also be a death knell for many of our institutions.  The initiative would cost the federal government roughly $60 billion over 10 years and require the “buy-in” of the states.  The presidents who have called me have said that a better investment might be to increase the amount of funds available for Pell.

You see, this is the kind of dialogue – let’s call it “vetting” – that ought to take place before such policies are announced.  And, as the President’s Advisory Board, we ought to be a part of that dialogue.  (You saw just a few days ago what happened when the White House – apparently without public consultation – announced it was going get rid of the tax break that comes with the 529 College Education Savings Plan.  The White House had to abandon that idea “quick, fast and in a hurry,” as they say.)  Dr. McAlpine may have a different view or additional insights that may be probative.  And I want to hear from her.

Finally, I want to let you know that as I said I would when we first met, I have brought groups of my colleagues together to hear and learn from senior government officials about federal opportunities.   (My goal is to help both the agencies and the institutions to meet their goals.)

Last month, for example, six of my colleagues joined me at Hampton to meet with USDA Assistant Secretary, Joe Leonard, and his staff.  It was an excellent meeting.  Dr. Leonard shared very valuable information.  His visit was much appreciated by my colleagues at Norfolk State, Virginia State, Miles College, Talladega and Virginia Union.  I have reached out to arrange similar meetings for groups of HBCU presidents in Ohio and in Alabama.

We have a lot of ground to cover today.  So, I will end as I always do, by expressing my appreciation for your service and your support of HBCUs.