During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump frequently asked African-American voters, “What do you have to lose by trying something new?”
Less than a month into his presidency, leaders of historically black colleges and universities are exploring what they may have to gain from a new relationship with the Trump White House and congressional Republicans.
Some HBCU leaders found themselves disappointed with the first African-American presidency within the first few years of the Obama administration. Now some see a chance to address many of the shortcomings of the previous administration with a White House led by a president overwhelmingly rejected by the vast majority of black voters — partly because of his history of inflammatory statements about minority groups.
Trump and advisers including Omarosa Manigault, the former Apprentice star who now serves as director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, have already met with a handful of HBCU leaders, and the White House is crafting an executive order dealing with those institutions, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., the president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, have organized a meeting in D.C. later this month of elected officials and representatives from more than 100 historically black colleges.
“They’re listening. And that so differentiates them, frankly, from our more recent past experience,” Taylor said.
The Obama administration faced an uproar from the HBCU sector in 2011 over the rollout of new Department of Education rules limiting access for many families to PLUS loans to pay for a child’s education. The change affected colleges and universities across the board, but the effects were particularly pronounced at historically black colleges, which enroll a much higher proportion of low-income students than the national average.
On Feb. 28, congressional Republicans will host college leaders in a meeting at the Library of Congress. The offices of Senator Tim Scott, the first African-American senator from South Carolina, and Representative Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican whose wife earned two degrees at Winston-Salem State University, have taken the lead in organizing the event.
And it may be difficult to build a consensus about policy issues. Much of the agenda espoused by President Trump and Republican congressional leaders — keeping taxes down while spending more on the military, borders and some infrastructure projects — could make for tight budgets in the student aid programs on which HBCUs depend.
Kimbrough said that his role is to advocate for his university, no matter who happens to be in charge in Washington.
While he understands the frustration with the previous administration from others in the sector, Kimbrough said the sector is still benefiting from stimulus funds approved during the first year of the Obama presidency.
HBCU leaders like Kimbrough should have no problem making a compelling case for supporting their institutions, said James T. Minor, the senior strategist for academic success and inclusive excellence at the California State University System.
“Or there’s an opportunity to really create a bridge and to demonstrate postelection the aptitude, the ability and the willingness to build bridges with programs that bring us together versus those that could be understood as divisive or polarizing,” he said.