This week, I am touring HBCUs across South Carolina to talk to the students and faculty to hear from them directly on the issues they are facing. Listening is a key part of being an effective leader, and I am excited to learn everything I can on these campuses. I want to take this fight to Washington and help improve the HBCU experience in South Carolina and across the country.
I grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina, which has the proud distinction of being the home to two of the eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state: South Carolina State University and Claflin University. When I was a kid riding around town with my grandfather, we often drove by the colleges. Seeing those students on their way to classes allowed me to say to myself, “That could be me.”
HBCUs are vital now more than ever. They are pillars in the Black community and allow people of color to learn, grow, and excel. As your Senator, I will make it a priority to fight for adequate funding and resources that allow our HBCUs to thrive and continue to produce graduates that epitomize Black excellence.
HBCUs have been a bedrock of the Black community since their founding, evolving into institutions of prodigious scholarship and activism, and educating African-Americans nationwide. When I think about our HBCUs, I think of icons like my mentor Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina State graduate, who fought against discrimination and segregation, and continues to champion for civil rights and equality. SCSU fostered activism and bravery in its students, and that brought us leaders like the Congressman. Today, our HBCUs continue to produce new generations of leaders, but they are facing challenges like the lack of funding and decreasing enrollment.
Federal resources are vital to the health of our HBCUs. Title III funding provides $85 million for HBCUs to purchase updated technology, hire more faculty, improve critical infrastructure, and support recruitment efforts. Unfortunately, this funding expired in September. The bipartisan FUTURE Act would reauthorize existing federal funding, but Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham refused to consider the bill. This can’t be about playing politics. We need to ensure adequate funding for our historic institutions to continue lifting young people and their families into the middle class. Students can’t afford to wait.
These institutions have helped build the American middle class, and are key to setting low-income communities on a path of expanded opportunity. 87% of HBCU students come from low-income backgrounds, and 70% of those students land in the middle-class after graduation. This is demonstrable proof that HBCUs are key to economic mobility and increased prosperity for folks of color in South Carolina and across the country.
But, HBCU students are saddled with a 32% higher median of student loan debt than non-HBCU students. As Senator, I’ll ensure that our students of color not only have the means to enter college, but can afford to stay in school until graduation. This means fighting to end the student loan crisis, increasing funding for programs like Pell Grants, and making college more affordable for all students, especially those at our HBCUs.
Federal Resources are the lifeblood of many of these institutions. When Congress modified the Pell Grant program, it had a detrimental impact on HBCUs, whose budgets are primarily based on student enrollment and federal funds to support those students.
My campaign is about restoring hope to South Carolina. And that begins by showing people the American Dream is alive and well — no matter the color of your skin. We must continue to invest in our HBCUs, so they can continue to be a pipeline to the middle-class for young Black people and their families.