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Friday, January 28, 2022

‘Promises Made Just Have to Be Promises Kept’: Black Colleges Feel Stung by Democrats

“We cut off our noses to spite our face, when we don’t invest in the assets that spur economic and social mobility,” Dr. Perry said, a senior fellow at Brookings, at a recent hearing of the House Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee.

Dr. Perry noted that endowments alone would not close the existing gaps. The combined endowment for every H.B.C.U. in the country through 2019 was just over $3.9 billion, he said in his testimony. New York University’s endowment was $4.3 billion that same year.

Representative Frederica Wilson, Democrat of Florida, a graduate of Fisk University — an H.B.C.U. — and chairwoman of the higher education subcommittee, expressed hope for future legislation; she recently said she would file legislation to help students affected by the legacy of slavery cover the cost of attending an H.B.C.U.

“H.B.C.U.s have been underfunded for nearly two centuries,” she said, “and far greater investments are needed to right the wrongs of the past.”

Leaders of institutions that have waited decades for the next promise, the next bill, say that time is of the essence.

The dormitory that Quinton T. Ross Jr., president of Alabama State University, lived in as a student is 58 years old — older than he is. It is one of the newest on his campus; other buildings are more than a century old.

Like many college presidents, Dr. Ross believes the school will continue to do what it has always done — draw, retain and serve students that could instead choose flashier options.

“If you don’t start at the same place, then you’re always going to be behind,” he said, “and when there’s such disparity over time, you usually can’t catch up. The Congress is on the verge of having an amazing opportunity to right a wrong.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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