[Marxism] Obama’s Betrayal of Black colleges

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 26 06:14:54 MDT 2016

Chronicle of Higher Education, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016
Obama’s Betrayal of HBCUs
By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

I attended Morehouse College in the 1980s. It was a heady time to be at 
a historically black college. We were fighting for divestment from South 
Africa and struggling against the consolidation of the Reagan 
revolution. Racial politics were everywhere, and at Morehouse, I was 
immersed in the diverse beauty and power of black culture.

My son, who came of age during the Obama years, now confronts, as I did 
during my time at college, the ugliness of American racism. His 
political consciousness has been shaped by the deaths of Michael Brown, 
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Alton Sterling, and too many others. But my son is 
not at Morehouse, or any other HBCU. He attends Brown University.

The trend in my family is reflected nationally. In the 1970s, HBCUs 
educated 75 to 85 percent of African-Americans. Today, according to the 
Thurgood Marshall Fund, only 9 percent of black students in American 
higher education attend an HBCU. Many HBCUs can barely keep their doors 

Their decline is a complicated story, stretching back decades. It is a 
tale both of greater inclusion of African-Americans at predominantly 
white institutions, and of a broad economic and institutional crisis 
engulfing black communities. The very institutions that once protected 
black people from the headwinds of racism are collapsing, and the Great 
Recession of 2008 quickened the pace. Important "free spaces," like 
bookstores and community churches — where African-Americans can 
cultivate civic virtues and a healthy self-regard — are contracting 
because of the destabilizing effects of poverty. All of which has been 
complicated, even more, by the general crisis in American higher education.

Yet the story would be incomplete if we didn’t confront a troubling 
paradox: America’s first black president has accelerated the crisis 
facing historically black colleges and universities.

"When white America has a cold," the old saying goes, "black America has 
the flu." HBCUs have a severe case of the flu. The economic fallout from 
the 2008 recession cracked the foundations of black America: more than 
240,000 homes lost, skyrocketing levels of unemployment, and downward 
mobility as families fell into poverty.

Colleges with small endowments found it difficult to hold on, leading to 
furloughs of staff and faculty members and decreased enrollments (75 
percent of HBCU students rely on Pell Grants, and 13 percent use Parent 
Plus loans). Like predominantly white institutions, HBCUs, with already 
strapped budgets, had to tighten their belts.

The election of President Obama, even amid this economic storm, brought 
a moment of excitement. His administration expanded funding for Title 
III Part B grants, which are aimed at predominantly black institutions. 
The hopes of many HBCU leaders were lifted. "Then the wheels fell off," 
Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, told me.

America's first black president has accelerated the crisis facing 
historically black colleges and universities.  In 2011 the Department of 
Education changed the standards for Parent Plus Loans. Borrowers could 
not have any loan accounts more than 90 days late, or any foreclosures 
or defaults, a change that cost HBCUs tens of millions of dollars. The 
United Negro College Fund reported that in 2012-13, "the number of 
students attending HBCUs with Parent Plus loans dropped by 45 percent, 
or more than 17,000 students." Four years later, the Department of 
Education changed its policy, but for already cash-strapped 
institutions, the damage was done.

Then, in 2015, Obama put forward a program for two years of free tuition 
for qualified students at community colleges without apparent 
consideration of the effect on HBCUs, who often compete for the same 
students. Congressional intervention made sure that the free-tuition 
provisions were expanded to include HBCUs and other minority-serving 
institutions. It seemed as if the Obama administration held little, if 
any, concern for black colleges.

In addition to the economic and political challenges, HBCUs face 
increased competition. Elite colleges like Princeton, Harvard, and 
Amherst offer generous financial-aid packages to high-achieving black 
students, and HBCUs find it difficult to compete. Black faculty members 
now have more options to work at all sorts of institutions. The 
advantage that HBCUs once had — a captured population — no longer obtains.

On the face of it, more opportunities for black students at elite 
colleges is something to celebrate, but the fact is that, even as HBCUs 
lose top students and faculty to traditionally white institutions, they 
outperform predominantly white institutions when it comes to producing 
black success stories. Although only 9 percent of African-American 
students attend HBCUs, they produce 35 percent of black lawyers and 50 
percent of black engineers and teachers. That makes the crisis, and the 
Obama administration’s indifference, all the more alarming.

What should be the role of HBCUs? There will be no return to the golden 
years. The majority of black students will continue to learn at 
predominantly white universities. And many HBCUs will continue to 
recruit nonblack students — a quarter of historically black-serving 
institutions have at least a 20 percent non-black student body. As these 
numbers grow, will the HBCU still be a black college or university? What 
will that mean?

Parts of the traditional function of HBCUs have moved elsewhere. 
African-American-studies programs at predominantly white institutions 
have taken on more importance as places for intellectual work on 
questions of race. Those of us who inhabit these spaces must be aware of 
that shift and the responsibility that comes with it. We must do the 
serious work of thinking carefully about the challenges facing black 
America and, by extension, the country. The Obama years did not 
substantively change racial matters. In fact, they made this work all 
the more necessary.

But African-American studies cannot take on the role of a "free space" 
for black America. That would be silly. Departments, programs, and 
centers are just islands on predominantly white campuses. It’s worth 
noting that over the past year, as racially charged protests have taken 
place at campuses across the country, HBCUs have seen a significant 
uptick in enrollment. That’s because HBCUs, despite their challenges, 
continue to demonstrate how important they are as "free spaces" for 
young black Americans.

Recently my son said he was thinking about spending a semester at 
another institution. He needed a break, even as Brown pledged $100 
million to address campus racism. He mentioned Morehouse. He wanted to 
be in a different, freer space — in "an environment that’s black," he 
said. Irony abounds.

Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is a professor of religion and African-American 
studies at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of 
Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul (Crown).

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