Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton — Who is the Real HBCU Candidate?

If student reception in the AUC is any indicator, Omegas stepping at Bernie Sanders’ Morehouse rally gets the nod over Hillary Clinton being interrupted at Clark Atlanta.

If platforms for HBCU funding make a difference, Clinton having the support of a HBCU political action committee seems a lot more promising than a federal legislator criticizing Sanders’ lack of reach for private HBCUs.

Both candidates are making a strong push to engage with HBCU communities, a direct response to the lack of connectivity between black colleges and President Barack Obama. Determined to maneuver around the blight on Obama’s higher education and race records, Sanders and Clinton have put HBCUs in national headlines in the same way Obama did in 2008, but against a rising subtext of pro-black awareness.

But there’s little reason to believe that, if elected, Clinton or Sanders will do what Obama in some cases would not, and in most cases could not do for HBCUs. The promise of earmarked appropriations which will require long-shot Congressional approval to be activated is less than promising. And the only thing deserving more side-eye than the promise of phantom appropriations, is the notion that students will only get the money in states which agree to help foot the bill for tuition subsidies; another blue sky scenario for red states where most HBCUs are stationed.

A real HBCU candidate would deftly jump over bureaucratic tape to create real change for HBCUs — direct funding to students to promote limited student loan debt, and increased research and development capacity. A real HBCU candidate would promote a mandate for HBCUs to receive a guaranteed percentage of all federal research contracts and grants to institutions of higher education — a recommendation that has been championed by Hampton University President William Harvey. Not handouts, but public investments in programs of strength at public and private HBCUs, in order to increase HBCU productivity and sustainability in vulnerable minority communities.

A real HBCU candidate would call for a national, performance (not need-based) tuition voucher program. An additional program outside of Pell grants and federal student aid, an annual voucher for $10–15,000 maintains student choice, increases affordability and promotes responsible loan borrowing, but it also promotes universities which offer more affordable four-year programs.

So if students want to attend a PWI or a highly-selective HBCU, they will only have to borrow the costs beyond the scope of their annual voucher. If students want to attend a school below the cost of their voucher, then that’s also an option. So far, both Clinton and Sanders have advocated for tuition subsidies to any school, but a real HBCU candidate would work to disable stigmas about HBCUs, while positioning the schools as preferred college options.

That’s the work of a real HBCU-minded presidential candidate. Are Clinton and Sanders meeting that description? Or are we just hoping they are because they are the only candidates we have?

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