Lawmakers push bills to buttress crumbling state historically black colleges and univerisites

Lawmakers push bills to buttress crumbling state historically black colleges and univerisites

Author: Taylor Allen/Friday, June 8, 2018/Categories: News and Views

Two bills, House Bill 2421 and Senate Bill 1180, aim to create the Office of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) within the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

State Senator Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny), and Representative Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny) announced the introduction of the bills last week that affect Lincoln University and Cheyney University specifically.

The proposed office would be responsible for helping Cheyney and Lincoln work with federal departments and agencies, educational associations, and philanthropic organizations.

The idea is improve the universities' participation in state and federal programs. It's also a push for more access to information for HBCUs. If implemented, the office would have a board of up to 25 unpaid advisors.

According to Hughes, a separate office is necessary because it fosters African-American tradition and encourages college affordability.

He also said that historically, Pennsylvania has routinely underfunded HBCUs compared to other colleges.

The federal government had to mandate state support of Cheyney University in 1999, according to Hughes, who was referring to PASSHE signing an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to get more funding for the university. He also said that Lincoln faced similar hurdles of lack of resources and funding.

"Cheyney and Lincoln universities are unique in that they are part of the HBCU tradition that has been so beneficial to African Americans and the larger community of low-income and underrepresented students seeking education," Hughes said. "The 106 HBCUs in the US make up only three percent of the colleges and universities in this country, but they produce 20 percent of all African American graduates and 25 percent of all STEM graduates. Combine that with the fact that HBCU tuition rates are nearly 30 percent cheaper than comparable institutions, you can see why they are so valuable across the nation."

Tennessee has seven HBCUs and the governor signed into a law legislation that is similar to the proposed legislation in Pennsylvania.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam created a director's position that acts as a liaison between lawmakers and leadership of the seven schools in June 2017.

"HBCUs are necessary; they provide the proper nourishment that it takes to prepare young people, particularly African Americans, to enter the workplace with understanding, knowledge and personal accomplishment that traditional history doesn't teach," Gainey said. Gainey also attended an HBCU, Morgan State in Maryland.

Not everyone is on board with the idea. Jay Mccalla is a Lincoln alumnus and doesn't see the benefit of the bill.

"That kind of office is simply a cheap political pull to make people think they're paying attention to a problem and addressing a problem but they really aren't," Mccalla said. "They need someone to give them money when they need it, and if you can't do that, all you're doing is talking."

This initiative does not include any additional funding for the two universities.

However, Hughes said that he does support increased funding for HBCUs and higher education as a whole.

Taylor Allen is a staff writer based in Philadelphia for The PLS Reporter. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at taylor@mypls.com.

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