HBCU Land Grant Presidents Propose Coronavirus Response Funding Plan, Florida A&M Launches Coronavirus Testing Site, and HBCUs Receive $2.1 Million in Federal Civil Rights Preservation Grants

Land Grant Presidents Seek $1.5 Billion Investment for HBCU Coronavirus Recovery Initiative

Presidents and chancellors of the nation’s 19 historically black land grant institutions have asked Congress to expand Pell Grant awards and to fund nearly $1.5 billion in healthcare-related degree programs and technological upgrades at the schools as a stabilizing investment in pandemic recovery throughout the south.

In a letter obtained by the HBCU Digest, Virginia State University President and Chairman of the Council of 1890 Presidents Makola Abdullah wrote to members of the Congressional Health, Education and Labor committees, proposing a three-tiered plan to maintain the viability of the schools while bolstering the number of credentialed professionals in the nation’s public health workforce.

The plan asks lawmakers to temporarily triple the maximum amount awarded through the federal Pell Grant program, which helps to finance education for more than 58,000 students enrolled in the land grant black colleges.

“Given our students’ already precarious financial position, the skyrocketing number of students (and their parents) who are becoming unemployed because of the pandemic will affect many students’ ability to return to school,” Abdullah wrote. “1890 institutions are facing an expected 35% decline in enrollment for the summer and fall semesters and will need to make-up for that revenue without having to layoff key staff and faculty members. A significant increase in federal financial aid through the Pell Grant system will ensure that low-income students do not lose ground in attending post-secondary institutions.”

The presidents are also requesting more than $1.4 billion in investments for staffing, scholarships, and establishing teaching hospitals on the campuses to upgrade degree programs in healthcare and public health administration. These investments, Abullah says, will address significant healthcare disparities in the rural communities where many 1890 HBCUs are located and will close the gap on a national shortfall of certified physicians, which is expected to reach a personnel deficit of more than 121,000 by 2032.

“COVID-19 has exposed the continuing health care gaps in communities of color,” he wrote. “Many 1890 Universities have undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the health professions. While our University health care programs for nursing, physician assistants and health care technicians are addressing some staffing shortages, a concerted investment in our programs is needed to provide greater support to the country. Increased funding for these programs will greatly improve the diversity of health professionals and help address the type of health disparities that are now highlighted in the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on African American, Hispanic, low-income and rural communities.”

Abdullah also says that more than $190 million will be needed to upgrade campus technology infrastructure and that an immediate release of federal Department of Agriculture program funds will give the schools a fusion of cash to address short-term operational needs.

Congress has taken significant bipartisan action to support individual families and businesses in their fight to survive in the era of social distancing. The same approach will have to be taken to support colleges and universities, which help to power the economies of communities and corporations alike nationwide.

In the fog of pandemic and politics, there is one area of unanimous agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump, members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, governors, mayors, and scientists — black people are being disproportionately harmed and killed as a result. If the nation is serious about healing its citizenry and eliminating racial and economic disparities that are painfully exposed through a deadly global virus, then this plan is one that must be seriously reviewed at the highest levels of leadership on Capitol Hill.

Now and into the future, America will not only need more healthcare workers and public health professionals, but they will also need to be black and they will need to be stationed in the nation’s rural cities and towns. Fortunately, many HBCUs can meet that demand in relatively short order; they’ve already proven themselves as undisputed institutional leaders in taking students from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and preparing them for the jobs that will save American lives.

There is no need for lawmakers to run a political gauntlet in trying to find new money to support dual causes of saving lives and limiting the impact of racial inequities — they can simply re-imagine the way that existing programs like the Pell Grant, USDA grants and Title III funding are defined and executed.

If the nation is about to be in the business of printing more money, there’s political clout to be earned with black voters and white southern moderates in supporting HBCUs as a public health pressure release valve for the country.

It comes down to a relatively simple choice for people in power when considering this proposal for HBCUs and possible expansion of the same beyond the 19 HBCU land grant institutions; help black colleges train black professionals to save lives nationwide, or do nothing and wish that you had in every election for the next generation.

Coronavirus is something no one could control, but the compassion and courage to respond to it on behalf of all Americans is something that everyone with power, ambition, and even a scintilla of humanity should look to grab at a moment like this.

FAMU to Offer Walk-Up Coronavirus Testing

Florida A&M University will expand its work as a community coronavirus pandemic response resource this week, announcing that it will offer COVID-19 walkup testing for residents of Tallahassee’s southside.

From a release:

The testing site at the stadium parking lot is scheduled to operate for 14 consecutive days from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Organizers plan to conduct a maximum of 200 tests – including walk-ups and appointments – per day. Testing is free and open to the public. No physician referral is required. 

FAMU and the Bond Community Health Center are organizing the testing site, with logistical and other support from the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Management Services. The Leon County Health Department is also a partner and will be involved in the follow-up.

“It’s important that we provide this vital service to the community. The Southside leadership and community are so happy we are doing this,” said Cynthia Harris, Ph.D., FAMU associate dean for Public Health, who is coordinating the overall effort. 

Faculty and students from FAMU have been supporting community screening and referrals for Florida residents who are concerned about virus symptoms since the beginning of the outbreak.

HBCUs Get Federal Support to Restore, Renovate Campus Landmarks

A number of historically black landmarks and historical preservation initiatives on HBCU campuses will receive more than $2.1 million in the latest round of funding from the U.S. National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Historic Preservation grant program.

HBCUs comprise eight of the 51 projects tabbed for funding earlier this month and will bolster a number of facility upgrades, oral history initiatives, historic research projects, and public outreach programs.

Since 2017, the program has granted more than $12.3 million to 27 HBCUs.

Projects for 2020 include:

Talladega College

  • Foster Hall Interior Rehabilitation - $500,000

  • Talladega College and the Civil Rights Movement: A Watershed in History - $50,000

Stillman College

  • Preservation Planning for Sheppard Hall - $50,000

Spelman College

  • Stayed on Freedom: Oral Histories of the Civil Rights Movement at Spelman College - $50,000

Morris Brown College

  • Rehabilitation of Fountain (Stone) Hall - $500,000

Johnson C. Smith University

  • A Virtual Sense of Place: Critical Black Urbanism in Charlotte, NC - $35,000

Livingstone College

  • Preservation of Historic Monroe Street School - $500,000

Allen University

  • John Henry McCray and the Role of the Black Press in the Civil Rights Movement - $43,897

Benedict College

  • Starks Center Rehabilitation Project - $500,000