By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
In his address on , Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) proudly spoke of the strength of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), during the State of HBCU Address at Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill on March 5, and he also called on Congress to take progressive steps in tandem to ensure the educational future of many African Americans.
“In a word, the state of our HBCUs is resilient,” Lomax said to a packed room of legislators, press and college and university presidents. “Why resilient? Because despite obstacles and barriers, assaults and attacks, under-investment and devaluation, HBCUs persist in the pursuit and execution of their missions and they produce often against the odds, strong impressive results, economic and societal impact for their students, the community in which they are located and for our nation.”
The address was part of UNCF’s 75th Anniversary celebration. CNN Political Analyst and HBCU Morehouse alum Bakari Sellers hosted the event.
HBCUs may have a place in many people’s hearts, but Lomax and the UNCF argue that the real world impact in investing with HBCUs can not be underestimated or denied.
About 24 percent of African-Americans’ STEM bachelor’s come from HBCUs. The annual economic impact of HBCUs is about $14.8 billion with total lifetime earnings of HBCU graduates landing around $130 billion. Also, according to data from UNCF, HBCUs produce about 134,090 jobs for local and regional economies, which is about 57,868 on campus jobs, and 76,222 off campus jobs.
“HBCU’s lead in improving economic outcomes for their underserved populations,” Lomax said. “HBCUs are engines of social and economic mobility.”
The crowd erupted when Lomax shouted out HBCU alums Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, who attended Spelman College and Florida A&M University respectively.
Another initiative of UNCF’s is HBCU Congressional Honor Roll, a tool used to hold members of congress accountable and encourage them to align their values and voting record with UNCF priorities. The Honor Roll recognizes members of congress who have advocated for HBCUs and students. To determine who makes the list, UNCF looks at several criteria including:
- Legislative sponsorship and co-sponsorship
- Floor activity on behalf of UNCF
- Bipartisan HBCU Caucus membership
- Event participation, including treks to HBCUS, events hosted by UNCF and attendance of HBCU events
- Submission of Congressional letters identified as key to UNCF’s mission
Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-VA), who made UNCF’s list, said he was not only happy to be a partner with HBCUs, “I’m proud to say I’m a consumer.”
“My children were educated in Richmond Public Schools and most of their teachers were HBCU graduates and I got a chance to see their dedication towards education of all children,” Kaine said.
“I am thrilled to be on this honor roll. I have no excuse not to be on this honor roll because I have so many friends, neighbors, so many colleagues that if I ever veered off the path would yank me back quick.”
Later in his address, Lomax highlighted bold priorities UNCF wants to push forward in conjunction with the federal government. One of the biggest goals is fully funding Title III HBCU programs. Under Title III of the Higher education Act of 1965, certain funds are earmarked for HBCU programs. UNCF wants to increase fiscal year 2019 levers to $375 million (from $282 million). In addition an annual funding of $85 million for strengthening HBCU programs is set to expire at the end of the year and UNCF wants use of that funding.
Pell grants offer financial support to about 70 percent of HBCU students, which is about 205,000 people. UNCF wants to increase the amount of Pell Grants and other financial aid services offered to students.
Infrastructure was another key priority for UNCF. The organization wants a $1 trillion national infrastructure program which would include, grants, no or low interest loans and tax incentives to renovate and construct HBCU facilities. Also under that missive was a $50 million annual funding ask for HBCU Historic Preservation program to be run by U.S. National Park Service.
“So today in our nation’s capital, UNCF’s call to action includes our message to the United States Congress,” Lomax said. “Over the last two years the Congress has been a notably strong and consequential partner for UNCF and for HBCUs.”
Lomax pointed to congressional actions last year that produced $109 million more in funding increases for HBCUs, however, it was clear that more needed to be done.
“But we can not be complacent,” Lomax said, “…if HBCUs are to catch up with institutions that have a 250-year head start.”
“And make no mistake, our aspirations are to lead and not to follow.”
UNCF is the largest minority education organization, dedicated to serving youth, the community and the nation through education and the development of scholarship and other programs. The organization has 37 member colleges and universities.