No organization plays funnier with numbers than the United States Federal Government, especially when it comes to funding for education. The Department of Education can produce three different reports suggesting three different sets of statistics on how much it supports equity among all kinds of tax paying citizens through public funding.
To really get a sense of how much the federal government cares about education is to try and work through numbers listed in the annual budget produced by Congress and signed off by the president. Then you work your way down through thousands of pages until you arrive at the budget for secondary, career and technical and post-secondary education.
The post-secondary section of the budget contains a lot of numbers which intermingle to paint a picture of how much institutions and college students receive in federal support, billions spent annually towards the goal of helping students to earn college degrees through tuition assistance, research opportunities, campus construction, operational costs, pre-college preparation, and experiential learning through internships and study abroad.
Historically black colleges have always been at the center of a debate on how much money the federal government spends on some of its most vulnerable institutions. For decades, the federal government twisted the way it reported HBCU funding by folding in the amount of money it gives to financial aid and scholarship programs which black folks typically use for college access but which aren’t exclusive HBCU funding programs, to suggest record investments in black colleges.
Here’s an example of what funding to HBCUs looks like with student financial aid included.
And here’s what it looks like without student financial aid.
But what if we stepped back from the numbers manipulation and looked more in-depth at how much money was intentionally given to HBCUs – not through student loans or programs of which any school with minority student enrollment could take advantage?
More importantly, what if we looked at these numbers through the first two years of the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration to see exactly who gave more to black colleges?
Why It Matters
With African Americans making up a sizable portion of the voting bloc which determines most federal and state elections throughout the mid-Atlantic and southeastern US, every two to four years politicians work hard to bring some funding to HBCUs in the efforts to convince black folks that they haven’t been forgotten.
From NBC News:
If Democrats could somehow bring back the 2012 level of enthusiasm and margin among African Americans, the 2020 presidential results would look very different, according to the report – even if all other voters groups voted the same way they did in 2016.
The Trump presidency has black folks at all levels of interest and administration at HBCUs taking sides on how much support HBCUs are receiving from a reviled, objectionable president, whether we should accept it or not, and whether we should trust him or not.
Like Democrats, Republicans are working hard in the months leading up to mid-terms to demonstrate some form of loyalty to HBCUs, and the voting black folks who love them. Donald Trump, for however clueless or intentional he may be on his own racist rhetoric and socially offensive record of leadership, is a part of that same sociopolitical machine which has run American politics for generations.
How much the HBCU community generally loves Obama or hates Trump really isn’t debatable. But what is debatable is the measure of our reaction as political stakeholders, to political action itself.
WUSA in Washington D.C. recently ran a feature to fact check the ‘rumor’ that the Trump Administration has given more money to HBCUs than the Obama Administration.
They cited ED-provided statistics to make the case – which we’ve already determined can’t exactly be trusted from any administration and doesn’t always tell the most accurate story of HBCU funding when other forms of general programming are factored into the formula.
So What Are The Real Numbers on HBCU Federal Funding?
Perhaps the best way to get a sense of federal support for HBCUs is to look at HBCU-specific funding programs. These are the initiatives authorized in the Higher Education Act and funded by the Department of Education which go exclusively to HBCUs to help campuses build or restore buildings, hire faculty and staff, and to provide outreach and training to HBCU students.
The programs are:
Most other funding lines allow HBCUs to apply and to receive funding, but these are the five which are only available to black colleges and the students attending these schools.
So how does 44 stack up against 45 through their first two budgets?
Strengthening HBCUs – Parts B and F Strengthening HBCU Graduate Institutions Strengthening HBCU Masters Programs Funding for Howard University HBCU Capital Financing Program Totals Obama (FY10 + 11) $673.6M $122.7M $23M $469.4M $138.5M $1.43B Trump (FY18 + 19) $682.8M $135.5M $16.1M $454.3M $291.6M $1.58B
Context matters here. Inflation, funding on the heels of an economic downturn, the composition of Congress and budget priorities for job creation and healthcare are elements critical for any analysis of either president’s HBCU support.
And even though we may not be able to fully trust numbers compiled by officials working under partisan directives, there are few budget outlines of any kind which suggest other than what too many of us fear; the guy we love to hate is showing historic love to historically black colleges.