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Trump signs executive order on black colleges

Errin Haines Whack
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday aimed at signaling his commitment to historically black colleges and universities, saying that those schools will be “an absolute priority for this White House.”

HBCU presidents are hoping Congress will bolster Trump’s actions to strengthen the schools with dramatically increased funding in the upcoming federal budget. They are calling for $25 billion for infrastructure, college readiness, financial aid and other priorities. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, historically black colleges and universities received $4 billion over seven years.

“The next step is the budget. You cannot have mission without money,” Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Johnny Taylor told reporters outside the White House after the signing ceremony.

Many of the college presidents also went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby Congress for more funding. Taylor said the $25 billion is needed to make up for years of underfunding and would cover the country’s more than 100 HBCUs.

GOP lawmakers said there were currently no concrete plans for increased funding. Several of them attended meetings Tuesday that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., arranged with HBCU presidents, GOP officials and business leaders.

Trump’s order moves the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education into the executive office of the White House. It directs the initiative to work with the private sector to strengthen the fiscal stability of HBCUS, make infrastructure improvements, provide job opportunities for students, work with secondary schools to create a college pipeline and increase access and opportunity for federal grants and contracts.

Trump met briefly with the college leaders on Monday, as did Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

While some HBCU presidents in attendance are proceeding with cautious optimism, some African-Americans are wary of the administration’s intentions — concerns underscored by DeVos’ seemingly tone-deaf comments Monday praising HBCUs as “pioneers” in school choice that gave black students more options to pursue higher education.

In fact, many of the HBCUs — including some established in the aftermath of the Civil War — were the only option, as state-sanctioned segregation blocked generations of blacks from enrolling at white colleges.