Washington — for the first time since he assumed office in 1992.
President Bill Clinton met with several dozen members of the National
Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) to
discuss issues of concern to Historically Black Colleges and
“Our members have wanted to meet with the president ever since he
took office,” said Dr. Henry Ponder Jr., the president of NAFEO, which
represents the interests of 116 historically and predominantly Black
colleges and universities.
The Monday, February 24, meeting — called by NAFEO and held in the
State Dining Room of the White House — focused on various higher
education aspects of the proposed Clinton budget, support for the
University of the District of Columbia (UDC), and continued HBCU
exemption from a law that would otherwise bar twenty-two HBCUs from
participating in federal loan programs because of high default rates.
President Clinton took advantage of the opportunity to highlight his
administration’s record in expanding educational opportunities for
“Over the last four years, we have put in place a comprehensive
college opportunity strategy to make college available to every
American citizen,” the president said. “I directed the Department of
Education and the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges
to work to increase funding to HBCUs. We’ve made student loans less
expensive and much easier to obtain under the Direct Student Loan
Program…. Last year we increased the Pell Grant program by 20
percent, taking the maximum grant up to $2,700 from $2,460. That was
the biggest increase in twenty years.”
Following his remarks, the president responded to six questions
prepared by NAFEO, which the White House staff had scrutinized in
advance. The hour-long conversation was restricted to these six areas
One of NAFEO’s concerns was that the $1, 500 HOPE scholarship tax
credit included in the president’s recent budget proposal would not
benefit many HBCU students, 90 percent of whom are Pell grantees. Pell
recipients would not be eligible to participate in the president’s
proposed HOPE Scholarship program.
NAFEO also expressed concern that the proposed requirement that
HOPE scholarship students must maintain a B average might exclude many
African American students and could encourage grade inflation.
The group praised the president’s proposal to raise the maximum
Pell grant to $3,000, but reminded him that the grant has continued to
lag behind the rate of inflation and increased tuition costs. Therefore
they urged him to continue raising the grant amount over the next four
“I think the meeting gave us an opportunity to thank the president
for the support he has given to the historically Black college and
university community since he became president,” said Dr. Earl S.
Richardson, president of Morgan State University. “We were applauding
him on the implementation of the direct student loan program, which has
been significant to us, and we applauded his support of the Title III
program. But we also wanted to say, `Now we think we can be even more
effective and you can help us.'” Title III is federal aid to
institutions, and in his proposed budget for next year, Clinton asked
the U.S. Congress to increase its aid to HBCUs by $6 million under
On the issue of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC),
NAFEO asked the president to include funding for the financially
troubled university as a distinct line item in his District of Columbia
“We’d also like to see more money in Title III programs,” Ponder said.
“In the course of the dialogue, there were several instances in
which NAFEO specifically asked if there would be opportunities to
follow up with staff on the issues that had been raised,” said
Catherine LeBlanc, director of the White House Initiative on
Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “Of course the answer to
that was yes.”
Vice President Albert Gore, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley,
Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education David Longanecker, and
LeBlanc all attended the NAFEO meeting. The College/UNCF President Bill
Gray also attended, as did U.S. Secretary of Labor nominee Alexis M.
Herman, for whom the president solicited NAFEO’s support and which the
group enthusiastically granted. Herman is a graduate of the
historically Black Xavier University of Louisiana.
While neither NAFEO nor the White House would provide an exact
accounting of which HBCU presidents attended the meeting, estimates
range from sixty to as many as eighty-three. According to the White
House’s invitation list, sixty of the 104 invitees had said they would
Absent from the meeting were, among others, Dr. Frederick S.
Humphries of Florida A&M University, Dr. Dolores R. Spikes of the
University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Dr. H. Patrick Swygert of Howard
University, Dr. William R. Harvey of Hampton University, Dr. Walter E.
Massey of Morehouse College, and Dr. Johnetta B. Cole of Spelman
College. Humphries and Spikes are two of seven HBCU presidents who sit
on the president’s advisory board on historically Black colleges and
universities. However, three other advisory board members did attend:
Dr. Oswald P. Bronson Sr. of Bethune-Cookman College; Dr. Earl S.
Richardson of Morgan State University; and Dr. Lloyd V. Hackley of the
North Carolina Community College system, who also serves as the
advisory board chair.
Although the president made no specific mention during his opening
remarks of the Century of Success report, which his HBCU advisory board
released only a few months ago, Richardson points out that several
issues covered by the report in conceptual terms were discussed in more
detail at the meeting.
The report details how much money each agency of the government
spends in grants or contracts with HBCUs. Altogether, there has been a
21 percent increase in federal awards to HBCUs, up from $1.03 billion
in 1992 to $1.25 billion in 1995.
The report’s recommendations urge federal agencies to include HBCUs
in their grant and contracting opportunities. It also recommends that
the president meet with his HBCU advisory board at least twice annually
and that the White House Initiative on HBCUs be transferred from the
Department of Education to the Executive Office of the President. The
initiative’s office is currently situated at the Department of
According to LeBlanc, the recommendations of the advisory committee
are still under review by Department of Education and White House
staff. LeBlanc did not meet with the president privately prior to the
meeting with NAFEO, but did participate in a pre-briefing of Clinton —
together with other staff — just before the meeting. To her knowledge,
there has been no follow-up meeting.
Reactions to the meeting are generally favorable. Ponder, Richardson, and LeBlanc said that the meeting was a success.
“I am encouraged by it from the perspective that all of the key
players involved in the decision making process, with respect to
education, now have another dimension and that is the perspective of
historically Black colleges and universities,” said UDC’s Julius F.
But one source, who asked to remain anonymous, said that some of
the HBCU presidents he has spoken to since the meeting felt it was less
productive than they had hoped. Their concern is that the future of
HBCUs does not seem to be as high a priority for Clinton as they had
anticipated. The positioning of the White House Initiative on HBCU’s at
the Department of Education instead of in the White House is viewed as
evidence of this — as is the fact that it took six years for the
president to finally meet with the NAFEO group.
The presence of Herman at the meeting, coupled with the White
House’s insistence that the content of the meeting be screened in
advance, also raised suspicion that the president was more interested
in advancing his own agenda than engaging in meaningful and open
dialogue with NAFEO members about the issues that concern HBCUs.
Ponder disagreed with this perspective. According to the head of
NAFEO, the only limitations placed on the meeting were that questions
be confined to the six pre-screened issues and that the meeting not
exceed one hour.
“They didn’t tell US what to ask,” Ponder said. “He was forthright
in his answers and he gave us the right to contact members of his staff
North Carolina A&T’s Dr. Edward B. Fort said that if he were
the president dealing under similar circumstance, he probably would
have wanted prepared questions, too.
“I think this man had three, in fact four, major meetings on the
same day,” said Fort. “Three of those were concerned with the various
constituencies within the higher education construct…. My overall
impression was that it was a powerful meeting that was well worth our
while. I thought that the president and Vice President Gore were very
receptive to our inquiries.”
RELATED ARTICLE: President Praises HBCUs, Explains Education Plans, and Asks for Help on Reading Initiative
The following is excerpted from the text of President Clinton’s
White House speech given to the presidents and chancellors of HBCUs on
February 24, 1997.
Welcome to the White House. I’m especially glad you could join us
during Black History Month as we pay tribute to the contributions of
African Americans to American life. None of those has been more
important than our nation’s historically Black colleges and
universities…. This has been important throughout our history, and in
the future it will he more important than ever before, because
education will be more important than ever before. To prepare our
people for the new century every young American must have the world’s
You know better than anyone how much a difference an education can
make…. Eighty-five percent of our nation’s Black physicians, 80
percent of our African American federal judges, 75 percent of our Black
Ph.D.s, 50 percent of our Black business executives and elected
officials all were educated at HBCUs.
Historically Black colleges and universities have served with
distinction, of course, in terms of their contributions to our
administration: Our former Secretary of Energy, Hazel O’Leary; former
Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders; the Director of Presidential
Personnel, Bob Nash; and, of course, as the Vice President said, Alexis
Herman, who is here with us today and who did a superb job for us as
Director of Public Liaison — and, with your help, will he a great
Secretary of Labor, and I want your help.
Over the last four years we have put in place a comprehensive
college opportunity strategy to make college available to every
American citizen. I directed the Department of Education and the White
House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges to work to increase
funding to HBCUs. We’ve made student loans less expensive and much
easier to obtain under the Direct Student Loan Program. AmeriCorps, our
national service program, has given tens of thousands of young people
the chance to earn college tuition while serving in their communities.
We have created already in the last budget 200,000 more work-study
positions to help students work their way through college, and in the
new budget there is another 100,000, which will mean we will go from
700,000 to one million work-study slots in only four years.
We know that financial aid is critically important. At some of your
colleges as many as 90 percent of the students receive financial aid.
Last year, we increased the Pell Grant program by 20 percent, taking
the maximum grant up to $2,700 from $2,460. That was the biggest
increase in twenty years.
This year’s budget is bigger still. It increases Pell Grants by
another 25 percent, the largest increase again in well over twenty
years, and increases the maximum Pell Grant award to $3,000 per year.
It expands the program to include older students who are starting
college late or returning to school. It raises the maximum family
income level to include hundreds of thousands of families who did not
qualify for Pell Grants before. In total, these changes will help
almost 350,000 more families send a family member to college.
The balanced budget also includes a $10,000 tax deduction to help
families pay for college, and a $1,500 HOPE Scholarship tax credit,
which is enough to pay for the tuition at the typical community college
in America for two years.
This college opportunity agenda will open the doors of college
wider than ever before. Now we need to work to make sure that the
Congress, without regard to party, will enact these changes into law.
Before I answer questions now I d like to ask for your help with
one more thing. We all know that literacy is the basic tool of
learning. But 40 percent of our children cannot read independently by
the time they’re eight years old. We can and must do better. My budget
includes more than $2 billion to help us with the literacy challenge,
hut that is not enough.
I launched our America Reads initiative to mobilize an army of
reading tutors all across America. And I asked college and university
presidents to help me achieve that. I sent a senior member of the White
House staff, Carol Rasco, to the Department of Education to work with
Secretary Riley to make sure the America Reads initiative does that. We
have dedicated several thousand AmeriCorps volunteers to becoming
trained so they can, in turn, train reading tutors to work with
schools, with parents and with children to help make sure our children
But now we need a lot of volunteers — as many as a million — and
a lot of them will have to come from students. I am pleased to say that
over eighty college presidents have already committed thousands of
their work-study students to participate as reading tutors. I hope you
will join them and commit a percentage of your own work-study students
to help our children learn to read, because without literacy, the job
manuals and the history hooks are both closed, and so are the doors of
college. We need your help to open them wider.
The following is a list of those historically Black college and
university presidents who said they would attend the meeting with
President Clinton. The White House was unable to confirm exactly who
Dr. William H. Harris Alabama State University
Dr. Yvonne Kennedy Bishop State Community College
Dr. Julius Jenkins Concordia College
Dr. Perry W. Ward Lawson State Community College
Dr. Albert J.H. Sloan, II Miles College
Dr. Cordell Wynn Stillman College
Dr. Benjamin Payton Tuskegee University
Dr. William T. Keaton Arkansas Baptist College
Dr. Myer T. Titus Philander Smith College
Dr. Katherine P. Mitchell Shorter College
Dr. Lawrence A. Davis, Jr. Chancellor University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
District of Columbia
Dr. Julius F. Nimmons, Jr. Acting President University of the District of Columbia
Dr. Oswald P. Bronson, Sr. Bethune-Cookman College
Dr. Jimmy Jenkins Edward Waters College
Dr. Portia Holmes Shields Albany State College
Dr. Thomas W. Cole, Jr. Clark Atlanta University
Dr. Oscar L. Prater Fort Valley State College
Dr. Samuel D. Jolley, Jr. Morris Brown College
Dr. Shirley A.R. Lewis Paine College
Dr. Mary L. Smith Kentucky State University
Dr. Raymond Hicks Grambling State University
Dr. Jerome Greene Chancellor Southern Univ. at Shreveport/Bossier City
Dr. Norman C. Francis Xavier University of New Orleans
Dr. Nathanael Pollard, Jr. Bowie State University
Dr. Calvin W. Burnett Coppin State College
Dr. Earl S. Richardson Morgan State University
Dr. Marjorie Harris Lewis College of Business
Dr. Clinton Bristow, Jr. Alcorn State University
Dr. James E. Lyons, Sr. Jackson State University
Dr. David L. Beckley Rust College
Dr. Henry Givens, Jr. Harris-Stowe State College
Dr. Donald L. Mullett Interim President Lincoln University
Dr. Mickey L. Burnim Chancellor Elizabeth City State University
Dr. Willis B. McLeod Chancellor Fayetteville State University
Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancey Johnson C. Smith University
Dr. Burnett Joiner Livingstone College
Dr. Edward B. Fort Chancellor North Carolina A&T State University
Dr. Julius L. Chambers Chancellor North Carolina Central University
Dr. Talbert O. Shaw Shaw University
Dr. George E. Ayers Interim President Central State University
Dr. John L. Henderson Wilberforce University
Dr. Ernest L. Halloway Langston University
Dr. W. Clinton Pettus Cheney State University
Dr. Niara Sudarkasa Lincoln University
Dr. David T. Shannon Allen University
Dr. David Swinton Benedict College
Dr. Henry N. Tisdale Claffin College
Dr. Joann R.G. Boyd-Scotland Denmark Technical College
Dr. Leonard Dawson Voorhees College
Dr. Rutherford H. Adkins Interim President Fisk University
Dr. Wesley McClure Lane College
Dr. George R. Johnson, Jr. Lemoyne-Owen College
Dr. James A. Hefner Tennessee State University
Dr. Lee Monroe Paul Quinn College
Dr. Heyward L. Strickland Texas College
Dr. William R. Harvey Office of the President Hampton University Texas College
Dr. Harrison B. Wilson Norfolk State University
Dr. Thomas M. Law Saint Paul’s College
Dr. Eddie N. Moore, Jr. Virginia State University
U.S. Virgin Islands
Dr. Orville Kean University of the Virgin Islands
RELATED ARTICLE: The six issues NAFEO members raised with President Clinton at their Feb. 24 meeting include:
1) Increasing the Pell Grant maximum by $500 (the president’s
proposal is to increase it by $300 which would bring the maximum grant
amount to $3,000);
2) Ensuring that the maximum Pell Grant beneficiaries can take advantage of the president’s $1,500 HOPE Scholarship proposal;
3) Building more flexibility into Title III institutional aid awards
and giving HBCUs more discretion over how to use these awards for
4) Extending the HBCU student loan default exemption in the upcoming Higher Education Act reauthorization;
5) Including the University of the District of Columbia in the D.C.
appropriations act and have UDC funded directly by the federal
6) Supporting Title V, teacher preparation and retention, including
a new Patricia Roberts Harris Faculty Development Fellowship program.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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Division Director, Division of Graduate Education
National Science Foundation
Dean of the College of Social Work
The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Dean of the Tickle College of Engineering
The University of Tennessee Knoxville