By Senator Lena C. Taylor
While I don’t keep up with a number of current popular songs, there is an Atlanta-based rap group, Migos, who has a chart topping hit called “Walk It Talk It”. To be clear, the lyrics are for grown folks. However the title, reminds me of something that I have always said: I talk the talk and walk the walk. Whether old school or new school, the concept is the same: put your words into action.
It is with this sentiment in mind that I shout out the work of the Biden-Harris administration to aid higher education. In an Executive Order reestablishing the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), President Biden charged the Initiative to, “develop new and expand pre-existing national networks of individuals, organizations, and communities to share and implement administrative and programmatic best practices related to advancing educational equity, excellence, and opportunity at HBCUs.”
The Initiative further seeks to advance educational equity, improve instruction, support degree completion, and deepen federal engagement—all of which strengthen the role of HBCUs. Despite representing only 3% of colleges and universities, HBCU graduates play an outsized role to support the economic mobility of African Americans, producing: 40% of all Black engineers, 50% of all Black teachers, 70 % of all Black doctors and dentists, and 80% of all Black judges.
In support of HBCU’s, the Biden-Harris Administration has made significant investments in these schools to include, $3.6 billion through the American Rescue Plan and other COVID relief, $1.6 billion in capital finance debt relief for 45 public and private HBCUs and $1.7 billion in grant funding to expand academic capacity and provide support for low-income students.
Additionally, new flexibilities for minority-serving institutions to use Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund dollars to invest in renovations, construction, and other infrastructure needs related to the pandemic were provided.
They provided a combined $900.00 increase to Pell Grants—the largest increase in a decade—bringing the maximum award to $7,395, which is critical to the approximately 75 percent of HBCU students who rely on Pell Grants to afford college. Moreover, they created a new $50 million grant program focused on supporting research and development infrastructure and capacity for HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities. Couple that with a $758 million investment for HBCU institutional development and first-time grants to strengthen and diversify the teaching profession, and it’s not a leap to say the administration walks it like they talk it!
I applaud the administration’s work to have U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack send letters to 16 governors emphasizing the over $12 billion disparity in funding between land-grant HBCUs and their non-HBCU land-grant peers in their states that occurred between 1987 and 2020.
There is so much more that could be said about the policy changes and directives intended to correct years of structural and systemic issues of fairness when it comes to HBCU’s. I don’t do empty promises and neither does Biden and Harris on their commitment to create change.