Biden and Trump touted what they’ve done for HBCUs at CNN’s debate. Here’s what their records show

Both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump boasted about their record of support for historically Black colleges and universities at CNN’s presidential debate last week.

During the debate, Trump said he “got (HBCUs) all funded.” CNN determined that this claim was exaggerated.

Biden also touted his investments for HBCUs, saying “any Black student is capable in college in doing what any White student can do.”

Here is where both presidential candidates stand on their records with HBCUs.

Biden, Trump and HBCUs

During the debate, Biden appeared to misstate the amount of investment his administration has contributed to HBCUs, but CNN previously reported that his administration has invested more than $16 billion since fiscal year 2021.

CNN reported that in September the Biden administration also demanded governors in 16 states address a more than $12 billion funding disparity between land-grant HBCUs and their non-HBCU counterparts.

During the Trump administration, relationships with HBCUs were frayed at times and Trump’s own views on funding the institutions were inconsistent. In 2017, the former president questioned the constitutional basis for federal funding for HBCUs, saying, according to NPR, that “it benefits schools on the basis of race.”

At the time, HBCUs and Black education groups applauded the administration’s restoration of year-round Pell Grants, among other efforts.

In 2019, Trump signed the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at strengthening HBCUs as well as other minority-serving institutions by providing $255 million annually.

But organizations, including the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, pressed the administration to further bolster federal funding for HBCUs, some of which have faced dire financial straits.

Candidates must understand HBCU needs

Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at the UNCF, told CNN that HBCUs have struggled with underfunding “since inception.”

HBCUs also faced financial challenges at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which led to concerns about how some of the institutions would weather not only budget shortfalls but also reductions in enrollment.

Philanthropic giving to many of the HBCUs increased because of the racial reckoning of 2020, Murray said. That surge in donations, in addition to federal funding, he said, helped stabilize many HBCUs.

Prior to both the Trump and Biden administrations, HBCUs experienced steep declines in federal funding from 2003 to 2015, according to a report the UNCF released in 2022.

However, funding for HBCUs increased during both the Trump and Biden administrations and, Murray said, funding measures passed during the pandemic “helped HBCUs tremendously.”

“Congress took the lead on putting the HBCU funding in those bills and passing them. The third COVID-19 bill, passed under President Biden, included as much funding for HBCUs as both of the first two Covid-19 bills under President Trump,” he said.

Marybeth Gasman, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions, said “HBCUs are strong and resilient institutions.”

“They are that way because of Black people, Black leaders, Black alumni, Black students. They face obstacles but continue to persevere,” Gasman told CNN.

However, leaders supporting HBCUs also insisted that there’s still more work to be done.

When it comes to HBCUs and the presidency, Murray said, “the book has yet to be finished (on) who will offer the next chapters in terms of HBCU support. That’s what’s on the ballot currently and we want to make sure that whoever wins this race understands what our needs are.”

If reelected, Murray said, Biden and Trump can demonstrate their commitment to HBCUs by investing in both their infrastructure and the students.

“And you have to do it at the same time. You can’t do one and then the other because you can’t have great buildings, but then students (can) not afford to come,” he said, adding there should also be an increase in Pell Grants to help underserved students.

“Proper facilities will attract strong faculty and they will attract world-class students, which HBCUs already have, but it will attract even more students,” Murray said.

In a report released by the Government Accountability Office in 2018, the agency found that the HBCUs surveyed said “46 percent of their building space, on average, needs repair or replacement.”

Cleveland Gary, chief business development officer for the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, an organization that supports HBCUs and predominately Black institutions, encouraged both candidates to create inclusive programs to benefit the next generation of HBCU students.

“That’s putting a stake in the ground, putting your money where your mouth is, and that shows that you truly care about the lifeblood of this country because they are American citizens as well,” he said.

CNN’s Owen Dahlkamp and Justin Gamble contributed to this report.

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