WASHINGTON — Dozens of presidents from black colleges and universities met Tuesday with members of Congress, but said they’re waiting for what concrete steps come next.
The conference comes a week after Concordia College in Alabama announced it would close its doors this year.
Rep Terri Sewell, D-Ala., said the closing is a sign of the struggles facing historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“It says that lots of HBCUs have funding problems,” said Sewell, whose state is home to several HBCUs. “It’s just sad because that’s 100 jobs in my hometown of Selma … Keeping our doors open for HBCUs that have been such thriving part of our educational system’’ is important.
Nearly 70 presidents of HBCUs attended a daylong conference hosted by Republicans Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina. The conference featured a panel with major companies, including Google, and another one with lawmakers, including Sewell and other House and Senate members.
The conference is the second hosted by the Republican lawmakers. Last year, more than 80 presidents attended the conference. The day before they met with President Trump in the White House. Several presidents complained it was more of a photo op.
Rodney Ellis, chancellor of the Southern University at Shreveport, called Tuesday’s conference a good first step.
“It’s a great effort to at least connect us with opportunities — the missing piece is what happens next,’’ Ellis said. “There has to be some connectivity or action that happens to really put us in position to take advantage of some of the things we hear.”
Charlotte Morris, interim president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, agreed saying the conference offered a good opportunity to build relationships with federal agencies.
“There should be a next step… and what can actually be done,’’ she said.
More: Democratic and Republican lawmakers put aside differences to help black colleges
The presidents laid out some of their concerns, including the need for more resources.
Walker said resources are a major key to the success at HBCUs.
“Having their chance to have a front row seat with policy makers who are funding priorities is a critical opportunity,’’ he said.
Scott acknowledged the struggles of HBCUs in the wake of the Concordia news.
“The reality of the situation is the price tag is getting higher, the competition is getting stronger and the reality is that we have to find ways to solve problems by reinforcing the value of this path from an education standpoint,’’ he said. “I think we’re doing that and we’re going to save, in my opinion, more institutions if not all institutions because of opportunities to bring folks together.”
The White House also announced Tuesday the appointment of Johnny Taylor, the former president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, to chair the administration’s HBCU Initiative board of advisers.
“We have made great strides in strengthening HBCUs, a cherished and vital institution in our country,” Trump said.
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