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Dr. Kimbrough goes to Washington: Here's what he wanted to say

By Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough
On March 10, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (March 10, 2017) –Editor’s note: President Walter Kimbrough was among a group of HBCU presidents who visited the nation’s capital during the Mardi Gras break to get their message about needs to the new administration, most notably Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Kimbrough was slated to be one of about 15 presidents to give two-minute talks before officials from a number of federal agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget.

Instead, Omarosa Manigault, who is now assistant to President Donald Trump, had the group go to the Oval Office to meet President Donald Trump and hear Vice President Mike Pence speak. Kimbrough said the “substance of the day disappeared and it became more symbolic,” with only seven presidents given about a minute each. He said at the time that he expected the second day to be more substantive and bi-partisan, with Democrats, including Congressman Cedric Richmond, present.

Trump signed an executive order the administration said was aimed to boost HBCUs by encouraging strategic partnerships to get more funding. The White House Initiative on HBCUs, started by President Jimmy Carter, had been under DeVos’ Education Department authority but has now been moved to Trump’s office.

Kimbrough said in an email that it was unfortunate that former President Barack Obama had no one like the “powerful” Omarosa on his team “to push this agenda. HBCUs were often ignored and even had negative things said by Obama publicly.” Speaking to a WBRZ-TV reporter, Kimbrough said HBCUs are “waiting for the substance,” but the order was a “good first step.”

The following is what Dillard’s president planned to say in his two minutes.

Prepared statement by Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, Dillard University president

In his Oscar’s acceptance speech last night [Feb. 26], Mahershala Ali celebrated American’s belief in the transformative power of education when he first thanked his teachers and professors. Historically black colleges and universities are living testimonies of this power, the central force in educating people inextricably linked to the promise of America.

Fifty years ago, a philosophy emerged suggesting that education was no longer a public good, but a private one. Since then, we’ve seen federal and state divestment in education, making the idea of education as the path to the American dream more of a hallucination for the poor and disenfranchised.

There is no doubt who is left to hallucinate.

In the past decade, the wealth gap between whites and blacks has gone from seven- to thirteen-fold. The median net worth of a single-parent white family is twice that of the two-parent black family. Black students graduate with 31 percent more college debt than their white peers.

The Pell Grant should be the equalizer. It serves 36 percent of all students, 62 percent of black students, and over 70 percent attending HBCUs. But the “education as a private good” philosophy has severely limited its impact on the neediest families.

Therefore, we must:

• Raise the maximum Pell Grant, which has hit a 40-year low in purchasing power relative to college costs and index it permanently to account for inflation.

• Restore year-round Pell Grants that enable students to finish college faster and with less debt. 

• And remove time limits to benefit growing numbers of part-time students who may require more than 12 semesters to graduate.

Pell is a great investment, especially at HBCUs where new studies indicate we do the best job, as Brookings noted, “vaulting lowest-income kids into the top quintile as adults.”

Pell is a vehicle to prevent hallucinations of opportunity while helping to fuel HBCUs, engines of social and economic mobility driving families toward the American dream.

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