Biden Education Plan May Pit 100 HBCUs Against Hundreds of Minority Serving Institutions

President Joe Biden name-checked historically Black colleges and universities in his first address to a joint session of Congress last night, hours after unveiling his American Families Plan for rebuilding economies and educational infrastructure.

HBCUs were a highlight in the plan, but almost every mention of Black colleges within the plan was paired with mentions of minority-serving institutions. A few examples:

On Free Education and Grants

That is why the American Families Plan calls for an additional four years of free, public education for our nation’s children. Specifically, President Biden is calling for $200 billion for free universal pre-school for all three- and four-year-olds and $109 billion for two years of free community college so that every student has the ability to obtain a degree or certificate. In addition, he is calling for an over $80 billion investment in Pell Grants, which would help students seeking a certificate or a two- or four-year degree. Recognizing that access to postsecondary education is not enough, the American Families Plan includes $62 billion to invest in evidence-based strategies to strengthen completion and retention rates at community colleges and institutions that serve students from our most disadvantaged communities. This is alongside a $46 billion investment in HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs.
President Biden is calling on Congress to make a historic investment in HBCU, TCU, and MSI affordability. Specifically, he is calling for a new $39 billion program that provides two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in a four-year HBCU, TCU, or MSI. The President is also calling for $5 billion to expand existing institutional aid grants to HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs, which can be used by these institutions to strengthen their academic, administrative, and fiscal capabilities, including by creating or expanding educational programs in high-demand fields (e.g., STEM, computer sciences, nursing, and allied health), with an additional $2 billion directed towards building a pipeline of skilled health care workers with graduate degrees. These investments, combined with the $45 billion proposed in the American Jobs Plan targeted to these institutions, will enable America’s HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs to tackle longstanding inequities in postsecondary education and make the U.S. more competitive on the global stage.

On Teacher Training

President Biden is calling on Congress to double scholarships for future teachers from $4,000 to $8,000 per year while earning their degree, strengthening the program, and expanding it to early childhood educators. The President’s plan also invests $2.8 billion in Grow Your Own programs and year-long, paid teacher residency programs, which have a greater impact on student outcomes, teacher retention, and are more likely to enroll teacher candidates of color. His plan targets $400 million for teacher preparation at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs and $900 million for the development of special education teachers.

United Negro College Fund President and CEO Michael Lomax lauded the plan and called it a step away from Washington catch-all policy that often disadvantages HBCUs.

“To finally see an administration invest in HBCUs as a recognition of African American people through the American Family Plan is appropriate, necessary, and the reason why I am calling on the U.S. Congress to put partisanship aside and pass this legislation,” said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF. “For too long, the explicit needs of African Americans have been overlooked in favor of the ‘rising tides floats all boats’ strategy. To make an impact that achieves equity, targeted assistance must be applied where it is needed the most. President Biden puts that forward today, and I commend him.”

But the details of this plan and the grim outlook for higher education funding at large show that Biden’s proposal partitions transformative investments in HBCUs with hundreds of non-HBCU community colleges and better-endowed predominantly white institutions.

Roughly more than 750 two and four-year colleges and universities throughout the country are classified as minority-serving institutions; schools where between 10 and 25% of the total enrollment is comprised of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Indigenous American students.

A close look at the list reveals just how many institutions which were not founded as HBCUs or to specifically educate racial minorities, have broadened their profiles as MSIs, particularly in cities and states where HBCUs are located. Here’s a look at a list of the public 4-year MSIs in HBCU territory.

  • Atlanta Metropolitan State College (Atlanta, GA)

  • Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (Tifton, GA)

  • Clayton State University (Morrow, GA)

  • Dalton State College (Dalton, GA)

  • East Georgia State College (Swainsboro, GA)

  • Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, FL)

  • Florida International University (Miami, FL)

  • Georgia Gwinnett College (Lawrenceville, GA)

  • Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA)

  • Miami Dade College (Miami, FL)

  • Northeastern State University (Tahlequah, OK)

  • Oklahoma Panhandle State University (Goodwell, OK)

  • Palm Beach State College (Lake Worth, FL)

  • Penn State University - Abington (Abington, PA)

  • Rogers State University (Claremore, OK)

  • Seminole State College of Florida (Sanford, FL)

  • South Florida State College (Avon Park, FL)

  • South Texas College (McAllen, Texas)

  • Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Durant, OK)

  • Sul Ross State University (Alpine, Texas)

  • Texas A&M International University (Laredo, Texas)

  • Texas A&M International University-Corpus Christi (Corpus Christi, Texas)

  • Texas A&M International University - Kingsville (Kingsville, Texas)

  • Texas A&M International University-San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas)

  • Texas State University (San Marcos, Texas)

  • Texas Tech University (Lubbock, Texas)

  • Texas Women’s University (Denton, Texas)

  • University of Baltimore (Baltimore, MD)

  • University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL)

  • University of Houston (Houston, Texas)

  • University of Houston - Clear Lake (Houston, Texas)

  • University of Houston - Downtown (Houston, Texas)

  • University of Houston - Victoria (Victoria, Texas)

  • University of Maryland - Baltimore County (Catonsville, MD)

  • University of North Carolina - Pembroke (Pembroke, NC)

  • University of North Texas at Dallas (Dallas, Texas)

  • University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley (Edinburg, Texas)

  • University of Texas at Arlington (Arlington, Texas)

  • University of Texas at El Paso (El Paso, Texas)

  • University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas)

  • University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas)

  • University of Texas of the Permian Basin (Odessa, Texas)

  • Valencia College (Orlando, FL)

That’s 43 MSIs just in the public sector within a handful of HBCU states directly competing with HBCUs for students, and Biden’s proposed increased funding. This doesn’t include community colleges which are being targeted for tuition subsidies, public institutions outside of the HBCU orbit like the University of Arizona, the Cal State and University of California campuses which are or have designs to become MSIs, or the non-MSIs which are becoming more aggressive at minority student recruitment.

From a December notice announcing UCLA’s intentions to receive federal MSI designation by 2025:

As an HSI, our institution would qualify for a range of federal grants that would bolster our educational programs and benefit Latinx communities and all others on our campus. Research has shown that HSI designation strengthens interracial relations among all students, improves academic performance and attendance of students of color, and increases their likelihood of graduation.
The decision to pursue the federal HSI designation, which requires that 25% of our students identify as Latinx, is tied to our public responsibility in light of changing demographics in California and throughout the country. One million Latinx young people will turn 18 this year and every year for the next two decades in the United States; these students are important to our nation’s future, and we must ensure they are positioned to succeed and to lead.

Recent funding trends suggest that HBCUs may still fare well under Biden’s plan if it extends the patterns established over the last four years in higher education support for minority students. An analysis of the U.S. Department of Education appropriations for Strengthening HBCUs budget line and the Supporting Minority Serving Institutions budget line puts Black college well in front by more than $3 billion.

But things can change quickly in Washington. If powerful PWIs with minority-serving credentials can prove to be better equipped for research, student retention, graduation rates, and post-graduate career outcomes for minority students, how long does the George Floyd effect last on elected officials with no legislative allegiance to HBCUs, and all allegiance to data-driven budget guidelines?

Biden spoke to Black people and to HBCU communities directly during the campaign as if we were the most important people in the world in the fight against racism and pandemic; we were then to boost his campaign to victory and remain so in the fight to flatten out both plagues here in the United States.

It’s time for the Biden Administration to make full good on those promises and platitudes, not with proposals for every school with an abundance of students of color, but exclusively to HBCUs to make them as competitive as he said they deserved to be.