“We’ve done more with less forever, and promises made just have to be promises kept,” said Lodriguez V. Murray, the senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, which represents private Black colleges. “The president did his part, and now if Congress doesn’t act, it won’t just be heartbreaking, but it will continue to demoralize our community.”
The lackluster funding levels have also created intraparty rifts, threatening the razor-thin margin in Congress that Democrats are already fighting to preserve. Representative Alma Adams, Democrat of North Carolina, has threatened to vote against the House plan if H.B.C.U.s don’t get more funding. In order to muscle the bill past unanimous Republican opposition, Democrats are using a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation — meaning they must retain the support of every Democratic senator and all but three representatives.
In an interview, Ms. Adams, who also leads the bipartisan H.B.C.U. Caucus, said that her mother, a domestic worker, never graduated from high school, and that attending North Carolina A&T, an H.B.C.U., allowed her to eventually walk the halls of Congress. She also taught at another H.B.C.U., Bennett College, for 40 years, most of them in classrooms without air-conditioning.
“If we’re going to invest truly in our nation’s infrastructure, we have to invest in the places that lift up those who are most underserved, and that’s H.B.C.U.s,” Ms. Adams said. “It’s the same thing as when we’re talking about crumbling roads and buildings; we’ve got crumbling on these campuses as well.”
The roughly 100 schools, born out of slavery and segregation, account for 3 percent of all colleges and universities but produce roughly 25 percent of African American graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The schools have also reportedly produced roughly 80 percent of Black judges, 70 percent of Black doctors, 50 percent of Black teachers and more than 40 percent of the Black members of Congress.