To commence National HBCU Week on Friday, Karine Jean-Pierre, the first Black woman in 30 years to lead the White House press briefing in May, led a virtual press briefing with HBCU student journalists, the first of its kind.
Student journalists were invited from Alcorn State University, Bennett College, Howard University, Johnson C. Smith University, Miles College, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Norfolk State University, Southern University at New Orleans, Stillman College, Tennessee State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and University of the Virgin Islands were allotted one question to ask the deputy White House press secretary. The Hilltop asked about the likelihood of a grant dedicated specifically towards housing infrastructure at HBCUs as many, including Howard, struggle to house students.
“The Department of Ed discharged over $1 billion of HBCU debt for institution-moving major capital improvements. For example, dormitories,” Jean-Pierre responded.
This program, known as the HBCU Capital Financing Program, provides 45 HBCUs with the necessary funding to renovate or repair campus infrastructure. Unfortunately, Howard University is not a part of that list of institutions.
Other students, such as Maliek Watkins from Norfolk State University, questioned the administration’s plans for “eliminating debt specifically for HBCUs.” The president has erased $10 billion in student loan debt, according to The New York Times.
“The administration and the Department of Education are constantly looking for ways of easing the load of student debt as it relates directly to HBCU student loan debt. HBCUs have received close to $4 billion from the Biden-Harris Administration… the American Rescue Plan has invested $2.97 billion to HBCUs” said Jean-Pierre. Some HBCUs have even used funding from the American Rescue Plan and other stimulus programs to erase student debt at their respective schools.
Overall, the Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration have implemented the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the HBCU Capital Financing Program, the Institutional Grants for New Infrastructure, Technology, and Education (IGNITE) for HBCU Excellence Act, the American Rescue Plan and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) in an effort to enforce equity and extend support to the universities that produce 22 percent of Black graduates, according to data from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Though these efforts are beneficial, students, such as Morehouse College senior Jalen Brown, questioned the longevity and maintenance of such programs.
Brown asked, “What is the administration’s plan to sustain the programs its started?”
Jean-Pierre explained that ensuring students are receiving the aid they need to complete college is of significant importance to the Biden-Administration. Furthermore, she said, “Agencies across the government are working to expand their partnership with and funding of HBCUs through grants and contracting.
Though this White House briefing of solely HBCU student journalists was the first of its kind, there are already talks about the future of such a program.
“Hopefully, when the White House opens back up, we can have you all physically here,” said Erica P. Loewe, the Director of African American Media at the White House and organizer of this press briefing.