Cuts to HBCU grants raise alarm for Rep. Terri Sewell, 41 members of Congress

By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times

Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) and 41 members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Friday urged U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide clarity on cuts to an Upward Bound program designed to help low-income students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

“We’re calling on Secretary DeVos to work with members of Congress to identify and address the issues that have led to such a devastating loss on our HBCU campuses,” Sewell said.

The Birmingham Times reported last week that Miles College, Talladega College and Tuskegee University – three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the state of Alabama — are among the 77 schools that had federal grants for the Upward Bound program rejected by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities are an integral part of our nation’s education system and our history,” said Sewell on Friday. “For many of my constituents, these schools are where the first member of their family went to college and where the next generation is getting their degree.

“The Upward Bound program has been a critical asset to these HBCUs by providing millions of students with the security of an academic support system that can eliminate achievement gaps existing between the rich and the poor and between HBCU students and those who attend other institutions. Denying HBCUs this lifeline of support puts students at risk and our history at risk.”

During the FY17 grant period, a number of HBCUs lost funding for their Upward Bound programs, many for non-substantive errors such as font or file format. Sewell was among those in Congress who signed a letter to DeVos expressing concerns.

“As the TRIO Caucus co-chair and an Upward Bound graduate, I am deeply concerned about the denial of grant funding to HBCUs,” said Moore.  “Upward Bound played an essential role in shaping my academic and professional success. Funding must continue in order to ensure that future generations have access to these resources.  We hope that Secretary DeVos will respond to this letter affirming her commitment to Upward Bound students at our historically Black colleges. This administration should work to mitigate disparities not aggravate them.”

In May, DeVos said the problem stemmed from formatting and clerical issues, but she directed department staff “to allow flexibility on formatting and other technical elements on all grant applications. Bureaucratic red tape should never get in the way of helping students.”

Upward Bound is part of the federal TRIO programs, which are outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Included among HBCUs which lost Upward Bound grants are Miles College, which has had an active Upward Bound program on its campus since the mid-1960s, Tuskegee University, Clark Atlanta University, West Virginia State University. Those are just some of the HBCUs where Upward Bound programs were founded during the pivotal years of the Civil Rights Movement and which have lost their programs during this year’s competition.

Rhonda Nunn, Guidance Counselor for Miles College Upward Bound program, said 81 students will not get the benefit of the services for academic, cultural, and social enrichment that [Upward Bound] has provided in this community for more than 50 years,”

“The future for these young people should not be underrated or diminished by those who have no faith in their abilities,” Nunn said. “That anyone is considering withholding funds for the continuation of this program is heartbreaking.”

Correction on July 6, 2017 at 4:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Savannah State University had lost its Upward Bound grant.