President Obama Said to Be Critical of #HBCUs During CBC Meeting

President Obama Said to Be Critical of #HBCUs During CBC Meeting


“These are difficult times for our institutions, our students and their families – even more difficult than when we first began this journey together in 2009.”  — Hampton University President William Harvey, Chair, President Obama’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, Feb. 4. 2015

President Obama was critical of Historically Black Colleges and Universities during a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus this week according to several in attendance.  The February 10 meeting was the first group gathering with the Black Caucus and the President since June 2013.

Several who attended the meeting indicated that President Obama felt that the focus of HBCU’s needs to be on the schools changing their ways of doing business rather on changes in federal policy. Those who attended said he was specifically critical of graduation rates and loan policies.  The President also spoke to CBC members on his free community college plan which some HBCU advocates believe will hurt HBCUs.

chart1The Chair of President Obama’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, Hampton President Dr. William Harvey, was critical of the lack of input the Board had on the community college proposal during a speech in Washington to Administration officials on February 4.  He also said he was “disappointed and saddened” by the lack of agency funding for Historically Black colleges and Universities.

“We are not consulted when it comes to policy changes and decisions impacting – in a major way – the institutions on whose behalf we are to advocate.  It happened with Pell.  It happened with Parent Plus. And, now it is happening with the new community college initiative,” President Obama’s HBCU Initiative Chairman said on Feb. 4.

HBCUs have had a tough time during the Obama Administration.  In 2011, a change by the Department of Education to Parent PLUS loan standards would eventually cost HBCUs over $150 million.  In August 2012, Morris Brown College filed for Chapter 11.  In 2013, St. Paul College closed after 125 years.  This week it was learned that South Carolina State University may close for at least a year.  Title III spending on HBCUs has steadily gone down since 2009.

“Pell grants to students at HBCUs are down.  Direct loans to our students are down.  Graduate subsidies have been eliminated.  In addition to student support, overall support to Black colleges is down,” Dr. Harvey, who has been President of Hampton since 1978, said on Feb. 4.

Dr. William Harvey

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), an alum of South Carolina State University, would not speak on the school’s situation. When asked to comment on what President Obama said on HBCUs at the February 10, White House meeting with the CBC, Clyburn said, “it’s for-profit schools where the graduation rate problem is — not HBCUs, the Parent PLUS loan stuff has to do with new rules on credit worthiness and I just think that in the discussion he mangled it.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan apologized in 2013 for the “real impact” the Parent PLUS change had on HBCUs.  A modification of the Parent PLUS criteria was announced by the Department of Education in October 2014 and is set to take effect in July 2015.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), a graduate of North Carolina Central and North Carolina Central Law School, declined to comment on what the President said on HBCUs on February 10 during the CBC’s meeting with the President.

Other members commented.

“He said there were some HBCUs that were not good at graduating students and if they did not improve they’d have to go by the wayside,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).

“In other words he didn’t show much empathy for struggling HBCUs.  It was like show me the numbers and if the numbers aren’t where they need to be, that’s it. It was a somewhat callous view of the unique niche HBCUs fill,” Rep. Johnson, a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, said.  Rep. Johnson said there needs to be a deeper discussion with the President on HBCU issues.

“We worked on this for two years and it’s a lack of understanding with this Administration and — in particular — this Secretary,” said Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) from Florida referring to Education Secretary Duncan. Rep. Brown is a graduate of Florida A&M.

“I worked at a community college for 16 years.  I worked at a Black college for four years.  I worked at the University of Florida for four years.  We’re talking about community colleges for everybody — we should be talking about programs and the money following the kids.  They should have the option of going to wherever they want to go for those two years,” Rep. Brown added.

Former Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH) also commented on the President’s comments on HBCUs.  She said he did have some positive things to say about some schools but that, “It was clear to me that some of the information he has is probably from a narrative that he’s getting from someone else that’s not very accurate.”

“He and the Secretary have said in the past that there are HBCUs failing our children — and that might well be true — but if that’s the case then they need to shore up those HBCUs or they need to close them and not use them against us as we fight for resources for other schools,” Rep. Fudge added.  She is a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

“I would also suggest that there are as many private and for-profit schools who fail our children in a much larger way and nobody talks about them. Why single out HBCUs?,” she added.

A look at the worst graduation rates in the U.S. showed several HBCUs but also listed were Utah Valley University (15% graduation rate), University of Maryland-University College (10%) and Kent State University (23%).

Rep. Fudge was critical of the Department of Education, saying, “I think they have created an environment where if you don’t agree with what they think you are the enemy as opposed to trying to find a way that we can all come together and educate children.  Much of this doesn’t come from the White House but from the Department of Education and the Secretary in particular,”

“What we ought to be talking about is:  If there are weaknesses at certain HBCUs what do we do to strengthen those institutions?” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) who graduated from Jackson State University and Tougaloo.  Both Rep. Thompson and Rep. Fudge brought up the funding disparities between HBCUs and other institutions as a big problem.

The CBC’s First Vice Chair, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) said, “I was concerned about what the President said because it feeds into a narrative about the value of these institutions and whether they are equip to educate our students and what the cost is for doing so,” Rep. Clarke added.

“Many of these institutions have not had a maintenance of effort on the part of states or the federal government and over time that wears on their ability to maintain standards or even advance beyond a certain level.  It was very clear that he doesn’t have the same level of appreciation for what these institutions have done and could do in the future given the right support systems,” Rep. Clarke concluded.

Several members at Monday’s meeting remarked that President Obama appeared very tired during the 90 minute meeting.  The following morning, Feb. 11, would be the day President Obama would request additional military options against ISIS from Congress.

“You could look at the President and tell that at any moment he was going to fall on his face.  He was falling asleep.  He probably didn’t know what he said.  I didn’t take it as an offense because I don’t think he really knew what he was saying — placing HBCUs all in one basket.  But he was critical of HBCUs,” a senior member who was at the meeting said.

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), a graduate of Morehouse, said, “I think many people only want to look at output of the universities.  Nobody looks at the input at what they’re starting with.  They’re taking kids who are largely Pell Grant recipients, largely first generation, largely kids who come in needing remedial courses, kids who come from pubic school systems that have failed them.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to compare apples to oranges.  I have a different take on it especially as a public school graduate who went off to Morehouse and succeeded.  I think HBCUS are a nurturing environment and their goal is to take all those diamonds in the rough and polish them. It’s just a different role, scope and mission,” added Rep. Richmond.

Chicago Reps. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) said he had no problem with what the President said on HBCUs at Monday’s meeting.

“There are individuals who think that the community college initiative is going to damaging to HBCUs.  That has not necessarily been born out yet.  I graduated from an HBCU,” Rep. Davis said. “He [the President] was talking about schools whose graduation rates were not all that good.  I got the impression he was saying he needed to shape up their game,” Rep. Davis added.  Rep. Davis is a graduate of Chicago State University.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee who led the discussion on education policy with President Obama during the White House meeting, pointed out a recent $25 million federal cyber security grant for Norfolk State University when asked about the meeting.  The grant was announced by Vice President Biden on January 15 at NSU.


  1. As a community, HBCUs have challenges. But what I am tired of is the blantantly unfair and unequal treatment they receive when it comes to criticisms from this Administration. I’m always amazed out how willing this Administration is to invest billions of new dollars in community colleges, although 2-year colleges have lower graduation rates than HBCUs. BUT, this President and his Secretary of Education have invested $2 BILLION ( during their tenure.

    Again, I am the first thing to say certain HBCUs in our community “own” some of their performance results and need to get it together; but this country’s historical underfunding of HBCUs, which is being continued by the country’s first Black president, is adding to their woes. The President can SAY he supports HBCUs all day long; but we’d rather him ACT like he supports us — and giving a couple of commencement speeches each year at an HBCU does not cut it.

    The Congressional Black Caucus, for its part, should hold this Administration fully accountable for this disparity — and being “silent” is acquiescence as far as I’m concerned. I just cannot imagine the CBC would make excuses for a sitting white, Republican president who made such careless and uninformed statements about the HBCU community’s performance. And how did a member of the CBC explain this?: “He looked tired . . . . He was falling asleep. He probably didn’t know what he said.” REALLY!!???

    Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.
    President & CEO
    Thurgood Marshall College Fund

    • It would be interesting to find out how many of the CBC members who attended HBCUs actually gave back to their schools. It is one thing to complain about others not supporting HBCUs, but it is another not to support these institutes when you are supporting. Also, how many of these members have tapped into their connections to provide funds and networks to help these institutions become competitive? I would not be surprised if many CBC members give the silent treatment or become defensive.

    • I agree with Johnny Taylor. If true, it is disgraceful to read that he wasn’t fresh and prepared for a meeting that has ramifications for his very loyal constituency.

      • Yes, I think that is par for the course if he attends at all black forums. Most of the speeches I have read he is openly critical of anything black and applies broad brush strokes and collective scorn on the entirety of group. He appears to have the attitude that the group should be lucky he is even there as opposed to coming with any fresh set of eyes as to how to help since the last 43 white Presidents didn’t even attend. He then goes into a diatribe of rationalizing and defending federal policy of inaction to help whatever cause as opposed to being even handed and of concern.

  2. […] Several who attended the meeting indicated that President Obama felt that the focus of HBCU’s needs to be on the schools changing their ways of doing business rather on changes in federal policy. Those who attended said he was specifically critical of graduation rates and loan policies.  The President also spoke to CBC members on his free community college plan which some HBCU advocates believe will hurt HBCUs. read more… […]

  3. Investing in the early years, increases the chances that our children will be successful in schools. The delivery of Quality Early Childhood Development Programs; we must achieve through a system based on children’s rights. According to UNESCO’S 2012 Global Report on Education for All….Getting to the the subject matter: Some things that may affect HBCU are Funding Disparities, Low Expectations, Government Policies, and The Need to Partnership Between The Private Sector and Other Universities….Multinational and Regional Tech Corporations are Partnering with Universities to Equip Practical Skills of Students, such as Intel, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Samsung, Huawei, and Sap are some of the companies that have University Programs….According to The Report…Educating The Mothers and Parents of our Children is Key.

    • . Instead of offering tangible solutions to the financial and other problems, he shoots off his mouth about the obvious results from lack of funding etc.

      Mabbe we would have voted otherwise if we had predicted his contempt for HBCUs and his half brothers, us African Americans. Fool me once you will not fool me twice. Obama has done nothing for Black folks. He should just go away.

      • Many will argue that Obamacare and some other things help blacks. But I agree the things he has done has only helped us incidentally no specific polices as for gays or Latinos. From his perspective he has no political impetus to since we gave him 97% support at historic voting levels. He has pimped all of us as a “bottom b**ch.”

  4. I am a supporter of HBCU’s even though, I am not a graduate of one. If there were no HBCU’s, I do not know how my late parents and those in my poor community could have moved into the middle class. Today, I see how first generation college graduates are being supported @ HBCUs in my state and are moving into the middle class and are prospering!

    I supported President Obama for both terms, but I have been greatly disappointed with his education policies! Why, simply because he is a proponent of charter, and private schools. Is this because of his own educational experiences and the uninformed Secretary of Education?

    I cannot imagine a country without HBCUs! I do believe HBCU graduates must donate more funds to sustain them — not just for homecoming games, but throughout the year!
    My goal is to endow a scholarship for my late parents at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. This will be my contribution to Philander for nurturing my parents –thus, preparing mu family for a better and productive life!! President Obama MUST HEAR the personal stories of HBCUs-past and present.

    • Thank you Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. and Phyllis Hammonds, everything each of you wrote covered how I feel. I have a story to tell and I intend to forward my story to the President. I have supported him from the beginning when he was a citizen running for the Senate. I have made donations walked the community, responded to surveys, etc., all on his behalf and above all voted for him. TODAY THAT STOPS!!!

      After reading the President’s comments about HBCUs I picked up a hint of what I sense with lots of our folk who do not support HBCUs. I am an HBCU advocate with a passion, I know the history, I have lived the history and I annually study the data from the national student clearing house. Subsequently, I know the importance of this wonderful group of institutions. What we know from the data, if it were not for our HBCUs the number of African-Americans, Negroes, Black Americans or Americans of Color in all professions would be at an extremely low level.

      I am a retired superintendent from both GM and Rolls-Royce Corp. Because I was in management at both corporations I was expected to participate in community service. Thirty-five years ago I choose to work with urban high school students, helping with college and career selections. I loved it so much I went back to school at the age of 50 and received a degree in high school guidance and the rest is history.
      As a manager of a facility that was engineering focused, I learned a lot. I was raised by my father who was a building contractor, a black pilot and a gold and glory race car driver, plus I had four brothers. There are three buildings on Kentucky State University’s campus that my great-grandfather and his brothers built that are now national landmarks. I understood the building trade at an early age and especially the value of performing ones work at a high quality level. All of this background produced the person that I am today. A daughter, a wife of 56 years, a mother of four, an aunt, a friend and mentor to many and after retiring 12 years ago I began to service my district high school’s career and college center.

      The origin for my source of information that I shared with our local students came from my companies young minority work force, for some strange reason a majority were graduates of HBCUs, they had a local organization called the Indianapolis Black Alumni Council (IBAC), the more I learned the more I wanted to know. I became a member of IBAC and served as their annual college fair chairman for several years, growing it into a college fair program that not only hosted a fair but developed a Distance Recruitment and Scholarship Opportunity Network for all participating HBCUs. As a result of my work on behalf of HBCUs I was invited to become a board member of the National Association of College Deans, Registrars, and Admissions Officers (NACDRAO) for special projects.

      When the current superintendent of the MSD of Pike Township, Nathaniel Jones, came to this urban school district, in which I live, ten years ago the graduation rate was 73%, HBCUs were not recommended as an option and their academic scholarship numbers stood at 2.5 million dollars. In February of 2007, I began my work with the district and today their high school graduation rate has moved to 94% and the academic scholarship dollars awarded has been over 11 million dollars the last three years. When we study the data, the introduction of HBCUs as an option has made the difference.

      Things have not changed much since my days in the corporate world. According to Diverse: Issues In Higher Education’s recently published list (February 2015) of degrees awarded to minority students in Engineering, seven of the top ten engineering schools are HBCUs. The school that is #2, Georgia Institute of Technology, has HBCUs as feeder schools for their engineering program: Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University, three years are spent at the HBCU and two at Georgia Tech. Subsequently this must be counted as a HBCU affiliate.

      HBCUs represent only 3.7% of America’s four-year colleges however 8 of the top 10 producers of African-American engineering graduates are historically black colleges and universities/one affiliate. According to current data 87 of the current 2364 four-year colleges and universities are historically black colleges and universities. This is a study for one profession, the one I am most familiar with and had data on, think what a full study would reveal.

      The financial data showing our first Black President’s support for HBCUs is shocking and I for one am extremely upset at decisions made that have hurt not helped historically black colleges and universities.

  5. I cannot imagine life without a HBCU. I am a graduate of MVSU. Because of my college MVSU I am successful. We did not have community colleges . I commuted 100 miles ( round trip) a day on a bus provided by this college. I am one of the first generation graduates. Thank God for HBCU. We had and still have teachers who care and push students to succeed We have too many FOR-PROFIT schools selling our children pipe dreams resulting in debt. Even the classes they offer are just day-labor jobs not careers. HBCU do not get a fair share of the education funds ( Title III) nor credit for the students earning a living at the middle-class income level. HOW MANY CBC Member attended a HBCU? We must save our HBCUS.

  6. We are presiding over a systemic assault and indifference toward historically African American institutions (HBCUs). Given the cost of education, and infrastructural needs ranging from technology to attractive residential facilities, to safety to attracting competent faculty, HBCUs work diligently to maintain standards of excellence. The graduation rates are based on a four year formula. That formula is rigid and doesn’t include and appropriately interrupt the triumphs of students who finish in five or six years. The retention rates is based upon economic realities that most students work their way through school, and not based upon curriculum.

    The greater issue is that if more schools are going to close, we will see more Black students without an opportunity to earn a college degree. We will also see the end of community and cultural traditions. An example is the closing of historic St. Paul’s College on Route 58 in Virginia, is an example of the end of rural Black America’s working-class ethic, community meetings, business events, religious conferences, homecoming and other time-honored traditions. No one in liberal White America came to the aid of St. Paul’s and the money raised by the alumni wasn’t enough. So when these institutions close, entire communities are devastated and tradition as communities know it, cease to be.

    I also submit that predominantly White institutions are not going to admit all Black students. HBCUs work diligently with students during the first year, to address educational and intellectual skills that remained untapped in public high schools. There is no formula or data to indicate that community colleges or for profit institutions do that at all, and may do it better. Why would we settle for persons for an idea that students be led to earn associate degrees, when they can be prepared to earn baccalaureate degrees?

    Dr. Harvey, President of Hampton University said it best – that HBCU leaders are not at the policy table, are not consulted, are not included in funding mechanisms and are dismissed as inferior institutions. Even though there are low graduation rates at some White schools, not all of those schools are labeled as inferior. To add to Dr. Harvey’s observation, other governmental funding streams willfully omit HBCUs from funding such as the National Institutes of Health. Researchers at HBCUs have a very difficult time securing funding for meaningful and relevant research projects, thus they are eliminated from a possible funding stream.

    I must add that there are devoted faculty at HBCUs, who publish yearly, engage in research that is unfunded by NIH and other government entities, so that they may have data, advise students, engage in community projects, and serve as experts to the Black community in areas from fine arts, history, cultural and women studies, and STEM. Yet,
    their roles are marginalized by wider society, and are not perceived as serious scholars.

    It is disconcerting that there are no advisors or personnel in The White House, or heads of departments who have completed an HBCUs. So the narrative of HBCUs is absent and ignored. I assert that even those African Americans who finished White schools, are just as problematic about the history, cultural traditions and nuances of HBCUs, and negligent of the will of communities to maintain these institutions. Their lack of cultural pride exhibits a truncated sense of understanding of complexity of the African American experience, and the need to maintain our survival thrust as a distinctive group of people.

  7. How dare President Obama said to be critical of HBCUs. Here is a pretty impressive list of HBCUs Graduates….Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.; Thurgood Marshall; Oprah Winfrey; Samual L. Jackson; Tom Joyner; Alice Walker; Common; Keenan Ivory Wayans; Jacqui Reed; Sean Diddy Combs; Taraji P. Henson; Jerry Rice; Shaun Robinson; Keshia Knight Pulliam; Yolanda Adams; Lance Gross; Erykah Badu; Ruben Studdard; Wendy Raquel Robinson; Niki Giovianni; Spike Lee; and Film Maker Will Packer…And Many Many More Great Black Actress, Actors, Film Makers, Musicians, Sport Legends, Government Officials and More….So, President Obama need to Fact Check and Recognize All of The Wonderful Achievements of our HBCUs Graduates.