With the Democrats back in control of the House on Capitol Hill, Amani Manning of Stanford, North Carolina, expressed confidence more money would be allocated for underprivileged students toward higher education.
“When you generally have more Democrats elected, there’s generally have more funding for education, especially for HBCUs,” said Manning, 23, a graduate student at Howard University in northwest D.C. “As we saw when [President Donald] Trump got elected, a lot of things like Pell grants got cut. I don’t know if more that will be returned, but there will be more progress for education.”
Manning and a few other Black college students expressed optimism as they and millions of other voters nationwide chose not only Democrats on the federal level, but also in some state and local races where changes could be made on increased spending and policy changes in education.
Aaliyah McLean, a 20-year-old junior who attends James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, said some Black students endured verbal abuse from white students who voted for Trump in 2016. One of her friend’s got chastised and told she’s only at James Madison because of affirmative action.
“On our campus, we have only 4.6 percent African Americans, and the football team makes up most of that statistic,” she said. “We need to stick together and become one. Issues that come up such as student loans and scholarships are important to speak out on.”
However, some policy experts wondered if education made any headway in this year’s midterm elections, in which the U.S. Senate remained under Republican control.
In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan won re-election over Democrat Ben Jealous, who was endorsed by the state teacher’s union. Although 16 former and current educators won in state races in Oklahoma, businessman and Republican Kevin Stitt won the governor’s race. His opponent, Democrat and former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, received an endorsement from the state’s teacher’s union.
The Brookings Institution, a D.C.-based public policy nonprofit, wrote in a blog entry this month that education didn’t appear as a major topic for voters nationwide. However, the organization said Democrats in the House could force more federal oversight that includes Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“Using oversight authority to investigate decisions made by DeVos could stall her agenda, and it could increase pressure on DeVos to revise department policies,” three Brookings experts wrote. “Will an increase in oversight cause a real change in her policy decisions? That remains to be seen.”
Challenges Remain in Higher Ed
DeVos faces a lawsuit filed Nov. 13 from Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) of Oakland, California, that alleges the Department of Education continues to accept loans from tens of thousands of students who attended for-profit colleges that closed.
Federal and state investigations determined schools that closed between November 2013-2015 forced students to obtain federal loans but not providing a quality education. The department’s “Borrower Defense Rule” that was finalized two years ago requires an automatic relief of student debt.
The suit by HERA, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, alleges the department delayed to implement the order three times and refused to adhere a judge’s order in September. The suit claims students most affected include Blacks, non-English speakers, single mothers and returning citizens.
“Following the change in administration after the 2016 election … the department has unabashedly and intentionally refused to implement the automatic provision,” according to the suit filed by the National Student Legal Defense Fund on behalf of HERA. “Upon information and belief, the department continues to collect on federal student loans that it is required by law to discharge.”
Trump signed an executive order last year to support more funding at black colleges and universities with some of those schools’ presidents standing next to him at the White House.
But lawsuits and education organizations have outlined how HBCUs continue to receive less money.
As the National Education Association noted in a report last year, Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, is a designated land-grant university, which requires the state to match federal funds for schools in a certain area. Lincoln was scheduled to receive $103 million between 2000 to 2017 in federal dollars, but the state only appropriated nearly $11 million, or 11 percent of the amount required, according to the NEA report.
A court ruled last year the higher education policies in Maryland didn’t provide equal high-quality programs for the state’s four HBCUs compared to predominately-White institutions.
“Significant strides must be made to change existing policies or create legislation that will both provide equitable resources for HBCUs in the future, and remedy the long-term effects of the current discriminatory funding system,” the NEA report stated. “As the example of Lincoln University shows, some HBCUs cannot survive without immediate action.”
That’s why voting remains such a high priority for Tobi Aderotoye, 21, of Bowie, Maryland, a Howard senior with a double major in chemistry and political science.
During this month’s midterm election in Prince George’s County, Aderotoye supported two particular education referendums on the ballot, using casino revenue to supplement public education statewide and earmarking $16.7 million in bonds for libraries in the county.
“I hope the schools and libraries can get more technology,” she said. “One way to make your voice is heard to ensure certain things happen is by voting.”