Here is an educational fact that probably isn’t discussed much outside the academic world: Most historically black colleges and universities, such as Jackson (Miss.) State and Alabama State, are in southern states, meaning a vast sea of red for congressional districts on the electoral map.
In many of those states, Republicans control the governorships as well as the state legislatures. That logically means it is incumbent upon historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to maintain at least a working relationship with Republican lawmakers and policymakers.
With Donald Trump surprisingly winning the presidential election, add the White House to the Republican-controlled list on the federal level, joining both chambers of Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court also will be a member of that list.
The United States’ 105 HBCUs comprise only 3 percent of the nation’s colleges. But HBCUs produce more than 50 percent of black attorneys in this country, 40 percent of black engineers and most of the black public school teachers.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr. has a history of dealing with Republican government officials. He is president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a help-advocacy group based in Washington that operates on behalf of 47 mostly public HBCUs in the United States. A Drake Law School graduate, Taylor serves on the corporate board of Gallup, the research-based polling and consulting company, and on the board of trustees of The Cooper Union, a private college in New York City.
With Trump’s inauguration, Taylor answers 10 questions regarding what might be in store for HBCUs in dealing with the new commander in chief and the Republican Party:
Question: Generally speaking, what do you think the Donald Trump administration means for the future of historically black colleges?
Answer: I am optimistic that, under a Trump administration, HBCUs will be a higher education priority as they have been in past Republican administrations.
Q: What is your assessment of and reaction to Betsy DeVos being appointed as the next secretary of Education? And, of course, what her appointment means to historically black colleges?
A: Frankly, we don’t know much about what a Secretary DeVos will do when it comes to higher education. Most of her work we know of is around school choice, a secondary education issue. That being said, we are busy preparing briefings that will quickly get her up to speed on higher education issues generally and the black college community in particular. At this point, none of us knows whether or not she will be good for black colleges, but we are hopeful.”
Q: Will you miss the Obama administration in relation to HBCUs?
A: I am on-record regarding my frustrations with (the Obama) administration’s relationship with, and treatment of, HBCUs over the past eight years. So I’d prefer to deal with how we can influence the Trump administration to ensure our collective HBCU interests are protected and our collective voices heard. We should also never lose sight of the fact that (Thurgood Marshall College Fund), as a higher education advocacy organization, will advocate for HBCUs as aggressively as we have done for the last three decades.
Q: Since most HBCUs are in heavily congressional Republican areas in the South, what role does that scenario play in the larger picture?
A: (Thurgood Marshall College Fund) is deliberate with our engagement on both sides of the political aisle. We made a decision early on to intentionally foster relationships with Democrats and with Republicans for this very reason. Some of our biggest HBCU champions in the U.S. Senate have been Republicans. Now that the Republican Party controls the entire federal government, (the fund) is in a good position to engage with the GOP because of our positive working relationships that pre-date this current election. When it comes down to the budget and appropriations process in Congress, Republicans will largely decide how much funding should go to HBCUs and other federal agency HBCU accounts. In addition, as some 33 states have Republican governors, we are also working to build those bridges at the state level as well. To be clear, though, no part of this should suggest we are abandoning our long-standing friends in the Democratic Party.
Q: Have you personally dealt with Donald Trump before? And what are your top priorities with the Trump administration, especially since Trump didn’t openly mention any policy ideas/proposals regarding HBCUs during the campaign season?
A: I have not personally met Donald Trump, but I have interacted with key members of his team. I look forward to developing a substantive and positive working relationship with him and his key advisers at the White House as well as other federal agencies. Our work will continue to focus on issues surrounding our HBCUs.
We have three main areas of focus for the new administration: (1) critical infrastructure funding to improve campuses that have suffered from years of deferred maintenance — something we believe will help create jobs that will reduce the stubbornly high unemployment rates in our most fragile communities; (2) education-related funding to remove financial barriers for students seeking to break the cycle of poverty — restoration of year-round Pell Grants and increased resources for non-traditional students; and (3) focus on high school financial aid literacy programs so students from fragile communities make better higher education choices.
Q: What could the Trump administration do the most to affect HBCUs in a positive manner? And the negative?
A: The best thing the incoming Trump administration can do to most affect HBCUs in a positive manner is invite the HBCU community for an open dialogue at the “policy table.” This will allow both sides to hear and listen to the HBCU community to get a clear understanding of our needs, and how certain regulatory and public policy proposals could impact HBCUs. For example, we know cutting Pell Grants and making abrupt changes to programs like Parent PLUS are not helpful and cannot happen again for any student.
(NOTE: The Department of Education in the Obama administration changed the definition of what it considered negative criteria for parents’ credit checks in the Parent PLUS program. That, of course, complicated matters. Before 2011, parents typically were approved for Parent PLUS loans for their college-bound children if they didn’t have delinquencies of more than 90 days and no foreclosures, bankruptcies or defaults. But the Department of Education expanded the definition to include debts that had been termed a charge-off (a declaration by a creditor that a consumer is unlikely to pay off a specific debt), or debts sent to collection agencies. That change adversely affected many black, low-income parents, especially those with expectations of sending their children to HBCUs. It made for some messy situations because some loan borrowers suddenly were denied loans after having been approved the year before, according to an educational policy analysis performed by New America, a prominent think tank based in Washington.)
Q: What role do Republican governors play in relation to HBCUs?
A: Governors are essentially CEOs of each state. Additionally, some governors appoint key people to serve on HBCU boards in the state. As such, they drive and influence the higher education agenda, especially from a state budgetary standpoint. For example, (former) North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory proposed the “Connect NC Bond,” which included over $190 million for facilities at five North Carolina HBCUs.
Q: What about the state legislators?
A: The phrase “all politics is local” is 100 percent accurate. It is true that the majority of the publicly supported HBCU funding comes from the federal government; many times those resources are disbursed through state governments, and local legislators set tax and zoning laws that can impact our schools.
Q: What is the value of having both Democrats and Republicans on your staff at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund?
A: There is tremendous value in having diversity of thought and personal political affiliation here at Thurgood Marshall College Fund. First, it fosters an open dialogue so that our organization can see all sides of policy proposals and political positions. Second, having people on both sides of the aisle working at TMCF in certain roles allows us to have a seat at the Republican and Democratic tables. Last, Washington is all about relationships. We have been effective in our advocacy, fundraising and partnerships because of our ability to have staff that can champion HBCUs in both Democratic and Republican circles. We leveraged relationships and submitted proposals for HBCU support language to be included in the 2016 Republican and Democratic national party platforms. We organized an HBCU National Convention Program for HBCU students to attend both the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions as official volunteers. Thurgood Marshall College Fund is a known and respected partner on both sides of the aisle.
Q: Hillary Clinton spoke at several HBCUs during her campaign. Did her appearances affect HBCUs at all?
A: Secretary Clinton has long been an HBCU supporter. We, at (Thurgood Marshall College Fund), were very pleased when she introduced her New College Compact, which included a $25 billion investment in HBCUs. The very fact that she thought enough of our community to specifically call out HBCUs and to propose significant investment in these historic institutions cannot be overstated. Recognition by someone of her stature reinvigorated HBCU supporters because it raised awareness of our issues, educated new audiences about our value and highlighted to the media that covered the campaigns about our historical and current relevance.