Alumni, leaders, and students of HBCUs recently descended on Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress for increased support. On April 27, the HBCU Collective, an advocacy group of mainly graduates of Black higher education institutions, convened at the U.S. Capitol for a National Day of Action. Participants visited representatives’ offices to talk about the importance of increased federal support for the colleges and universities they represent.

Morgan State University President David Wilson, who spoke at a recent HBCU lobbying day on Capitol Hill, said that turning away students who have worked hard to succeed is the toughest thing he has to do. (Courtesy photo)

“Alumni and students play an integral role in preserving and growing our HBCUs,” Robert Stephens, co-leader of the collective, said to a gathering that included Mike Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, and David Wilson, president of Morgan State University in Baltimore. “We’re here to make sure our elected officials see and feel the importance of HBCUs and we’re here to hold them accountable for their support.”

Shambulia Gasden Sams is a co-leader in the HBCU Collective. She noted that the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund help to raise money and advocate on behalf of private and public Black institutions. The D.C. HBCU Alliance, an organization of alumni of Black institutions in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, share that mission as well.

“We believe in the importance of HBCUs,” Sams said. “They continue to prepare children to compete in the global network.”

There are 107 HBCUs – both public and private institutions – and most of these institutions are in the South and border jurisdictions such as Maryland, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia, according to data compiled by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCU students consist of nine percent of all college students, according to 2015 study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

HBCU advocates want Congress to pass a budget that increases financial support for students, increases access and funding for federal research grants, and increases funding and assistance for facility upgrades. “We care about the existence of our institutions and we are going to make sure elected officials do exactly what they promised and that is to support our HBCUs and their students financially,” Dominique Warren, a Morehouse College graduate and co-leader of the HBCU Collective, said.

Warren said Black students at HBCUs take out student loans at a higher percentage than students at other schools. He said loan forgiveness and lowering the student interest rate on loans would go a long way to helping HBCU graduates become financially productive citizens.

Tiffany Brockington will graduate from Howard University on May 13 but it was a journey with a lot of pitfalls. “I was at Howard when my family’s house burned down,” Brockington said. “As a result, I faced a number of financial challenges that affected my academic performance.”

Brockington said that at one point, she had to leave school because of academic issues as a result of working multiple jobs to survive. Nevertheless she persisted, citing her strong desire to get a degree.

Brockington said her story is not one of struggle “but of hope.” She says she would like to attend graduate school someday.

Wilson said that one of the toughest days of the semester is “when I have to tell 300-400 students who have worked hard that they have to go home because they don’t have the money to finish school.”

“We need to see the Pell Grant increase to be year-round,” he said. “It is past time for HBCUs to get crumbs from the table but get a full loaf of bread.”

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), is the co-chair of the 52-member Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus with Rep. Bradley Burn (R-Ala.). The vice chairs of the caucus are Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and French Hill (R-Ark.) and includes Mia Love (R-Utah), the only Black Republican woman in Congress, U.S. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Adams said that 20 of the 49 members of the Congressional Black Caucus attended HBCUs.

“If we can bail out Wall Street, we can bail students out,” Adams, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from North Carolina A&T University, said. “We can’t just agitate. We have to organize to save Black colleges.”