Before leaving office in 2016 former President Barack Obama held a victory lap town hall meeting to tout his view of the successful execution of an agenda for Black Americans. One of the crown jewels he shared at North Carolina A&T State University was a big number – $4 billion in annual funding to historically Black colleges and universities.
Except, his administration hadn’t annually given $4 billion to HBCUs. Even in breaking down the $4 billion paid to HBCUs over his first four years in office, the scope of support for building HBCU capacity was very much in question.
Fast forward to 2022, and the political illusions used to build favor with Black communities are still very much at play. This time, instead of an audience of students at North Carolina A&T, the audience amazed by the magic act was journalist Roland Martin.
In a recent segment, he called into question a piece published in the Root in which several HBCU students criticized the Biden Administration for a lack of investment in Black colleges. He made the case for Biden helping HBCUs to the tune of $6.4 billion dollars in direct support given over a two-year period.
Except, Roland’s effort to get the ‘facts’ right on HBCU funding, also failed.
Using a spreadsheet given to him by Congressman James Clyburn, a data compilation that isn’t viewable on any other federal website, Martin walked through the ‘proof’ on billions going to HBCUs to support covid relief and institutional capacity building.
Here’s the context missing from Martin’s faulty reporting, which he bought wholesale and yelled at Black America for its ignorance without himself knowing or asking for broader context.
It is true that HBCUs received $6.4 billion in support between 2020 and late 2021. The biggest number helping HBCUs was loan forgiveness; more than $1.6 billion in costs institutions would no longer have to pay back to the federal government for money received under the federal HBCU Capital Finance Loan Program.
Much like with Obama, there’s a problem here with the term ‘giving.’ The feds didn’t give HBCUs $1.6 billion to repay loans, they just said they wouldn’t collect them. That certainly qualifies as support but is it direct funding as the lead of Martin’s package seems to imply?
By lumping debt forgiveness in with actual money paid to institutions, it allows the White House to move the talking point of “giving” HBCUs $6.4 billion. But 25% of that figure was not actual cash to help students pay for college, upgrade facilities, hire faculty and staff or address deferred maintenance. It doesn’t reveal that all HBCUs did not receive loan forgiveness, and also doesn’t account for the HBCU loan forgiveness awarded under the Trump Administration dating back to 2018.
A bonus at your job is much different than a bill being paid on your behalf. A bonus gives you control of extra money, while a bill being retired just ensures that the money you’re already stretching 10 ways now only has to go nine.
Martin not sharing that fact with listeners and viewers is bad journalism.
CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Funding
Everyone knows that the covid-19 pandemic struck in early 2020 and that legislation supporting relief and assistance across a number of industries, including higher education, was passed that year. So how much of Clyburn’s/Martin’s spreadsheet is comprised of funds allocated and distributed before Biden was inaugurated in January 2021?
Here are some places that a basic search of the U.S. Department of Education’s website will take you to find the answers.
It’s important to note that the first and second bullets of programming started in earnest under the Trump Administration. The third bullet is programming that started in March of 2021 under the Biden Administration.
Good journalism would’ve pointed out the differences in which funding came to HBCUs under which administration, not lumping all payouts to Biden.
Proportionality of HBCU Funding
One thing that is important to focus on in federal HBCU funding is not the raw number of support, but the proportionality of support when compared to all other institutions. It can be hard to find exact numbers on how government funding is distributed, but a good place to start is USASpending.gov.
Without using the site’s comprehensive search function of grant programs and awarding dating back more than 15 years, and taking Martin’s round number of $6.4 billion given to HBCUs, the average allocation to 100 schools is approximately $64 million per school. That’s a great number.
For perspective, the 11 schools within the Texas A&M University System, which includes historically Black Prairie View A&M University and Martin’s College Station-based alma mater, received a total of $506.6 million in educational relief funds between 2020 and 2021 an average of $46 million per institution.
When you take away the fictitious $1.6 billion in loan forgiveness as a metric of given support that again, every HBCU didn’t get, that leaves $4.8 billion in support — an average of $48 million per HBCU campus. And if you start to divide what was awarded prior to Biden coming into office versus money awarded once in he was in office…
All politicians use vaguery and loose definitions to boost their approval ratings and appeal to potential voters. Martin can’t decry bad journalism with more bad journalism, and we can’t accept or afford bad views of numbers from him or anyone else with transactional support of Black colleges.