By: Dianne Boardley Suber
The HBCU community has had a good run over the last couple of years. Amidst the raging pandemic, the collective colleges and universities recognized as the “institutions of higher education specializing in the promotion and heralding of African Americans” have opened, closed, and virtualized education delivery in a protected and productive environment like no other organization in this country.
A community of 100 institutions has managed the virus and tailored the processes to the uniqueness of their clients. Even while most consider HBCUs monolithic institutions by the standards of the outside community, they are now acknowledged as the standard safe havens that historically define their actual value to this society and create models for other institutions.
The first woman to serve the United States as Vice President is an HBCU graduate. One of the greatest football players of all time is now the head football coach at Jackson State University and one of the nation’s most prolific talent recruiters. Recently, 10 HBCUs elevated to Research 2 institution status, an unprecedented numbered powered by the progress of doctoral research programs nationwide.
Add the appointments of HBCU graduates to CEO positions, elections of HBCU graduates to key local, state and federal political positions; and Mackenzie Scott’s financial investment in a record number of HBCUs, and one has to admit that the HBCU community has, indeed, had a good run.
Operative word. . . “had.”
Where do we go from here? Over the last two years, HBCU’s have found their place in this country’s conversations in the most earnest, positive, and most acceptable status ever. It has been to the advantage of every wannabe and gonnabe politician to recognize and align their campaigns with the missions and visions of HBCUs.
Federal monies and state revenues complemented an unprecedented outpouring of private, corporate, and philanthropic gifts that catapulted these institutions to a level of financial support that enabled many leaders in the HBCU community to fix and repair, and finally, operationalize their visions.
But the pending 2022 midterm elections are looming and while Democrats are scrambling to hold on to seats eyed by GOP contenders, it is safe to assume that the prominence of HBCUs will be diminished by both sides amidst a plethora of issues.
The weather is shifting from “we need Black colleges” to “we gave you your due, now you’re on your own.”
HBCU leadership and constituents should be asking the question: what is the likelihood of a 2022 legislative agenda of CARES Act funding, infrastructure support, student loan cancellation or deferments, pandemic mitigation investment; or institutional loan forgiveness continuing to support and advance the missions and visions of HBCUs? If history in this country is any indicator, the answer is “limited to nonexistent.”
Many on Capitol Hill and in statehouses throughout the HBCU community, including within the Democratic Party and the philanthropic entities, will think that historically Black institutions have gotten more than enough to be okay into the future. The age-old leverage of guilt will have been assuaged, and it will soon be time for life to go back to normal.
Normalcy is defined by those who decide when enough is enough.
The debt is far from satisfied, and this is widely accepted in our communities. The support for these institutions benefits not only the direct recipients, but both the reality and the illusion of democracy upon which the United States is built, and currently teeters.
The HBCU community must stay the course in demanding more and expecting more, not because we are deserving of perceived handouts, but because HBCU investment pays off more consistently, continuously, and in a more impactful way than nearly any other investment this country makes.
Our institutions must document and proclaim the successes and achievements of the investments we make in our institutions from the financial investments others have made in our institutions. The windfall enjoyed by the HBCU community over the last couple of years was due and earned. In many situations, it was past due.
But if HBCU leaders and advocates are not vigilant and continually mindful of the “next round,” we will find institutions once again disenfranchised and relegated to being “fringe benefits” in the bigger picture.
Now is the time, as never before, to demand more and to tether the political futures of elected officials and candidates to the sustained futures of historically Black institutions of higher education. Failing to shout from the apex of this peak about our continuing needs and expectations, and the demand for continuously applied equity in all areas of support and services will take us back down the mountain just as quickly as we discovered this historic plateau.