- Cory Booker, a New Jersey senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, on Tuesday unveiled a $100 billion proposal to support historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
- The plan includes funding for research on climate change, infrastructure improvements and STEM education at HBCUs.
- Booker joins several other Democratic candidates to propose big investments in HBCUs, making it a key plank of the party's campaign platforms.
So far, Booker's plan would provide the most increased funding to HBCUs out of all the presidential contenders' proposals. The largest chunk of Booker's proposed funding, $40 billion, would go toward climate change research. The remaining $60 billion would be divided to upgrade colleges' facilities and to improve STEM education.
Other presidential candidates — including front-runners former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — have also laid out ambitious funding measures for HBCUs.
"It's an exciting time to be a part of an HBCU and be a part of the community because we're really seeing all these campaigns come out with plans that address the (specific) needs of schools," Victor Santos, director of government relations at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, told Education Dive. "They're not trying to shoehorn us into whatever their agenda is."
HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs) have been chronically underfunded.
Federal support per full-time student dropped more at HBCUs between 2003 and 2015 than at non-HBCUs, with a particularly sharp decline at private HBCUs, according to a report from the American Council on Education. Moreover, HBCUs typically have smaller endowments and are more dependent on tuition than non-HBCUs.
HBCUs graduate an outsized share of black students in states where they're located, UNCF research found. They also award nearly one-fourth of STEM bachelor's degrees earned by black students.
Yet their financial woes continue. Enrollment has sagged at HBCUs for nearly a decade, though they saw a slight uptick beginning in 2017 amid a tense political climate and a rise in hate crimes.
And in September, $255 million in federal funding expired that largely supported STEM programs at HBCUs and other MSIs. Although the program is paid for through the next fiscal year, lawmakers have reached an impasse over how they want to renew it.
In late November, Sanders rolled out his plans during a speech at Morehouse College, a men's HBCU in Atlanta. It would allow students to receive a tuition-free education at any HBCU, including private institutions, as well as provide $10 billion to HBCUs to train more teachers, dentists and other health care workers.
Around the same time, candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is also the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced his plan to invest $50 billion in HBCUs in a column for The Baltimore Sun.
Biden promised $70 billion for HBCUs and other MSIs to support initiatives such as lowering tuition costs, improving student outcomes and building high-tech labs and other facilities.
Warren has included a $50 billion funding boost to HBCUs as part of her plans to make public college tuition-free and to forgive large sums of student debt. Sanders has similar debt forgiveness and free college plans.
Investments in infrastructure could be particularly helpful for HBCUs, many of which have a huge backlog of deferred maintenance, Santos said. A survey of 79 HBCUs showed nearly half of their building space needs to be repaired or replaced, according to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office.
Debt forgiveness could also have a large impact on black students, who take on more debt and default on their loans at higher rates than their white peers.
Out of borrowers who enrolled in college in the 2011-12 academic year and entered repayment within five years, 32% of black students defaulted on their loans compared to 13% of white students, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress (CAP).
This data shows "crisis-level outcomes for Black borrowers," wrote Ben Miller, vice president for postsecondary education at CAP. "Policymakers must put forward bigger and bolder solutions for dealing with student debt."