From one president to another

I’m excited about the second inauguration of President Obama, largely because I know he’ll be more free to express his true beliefs and feelings about the critical role of HBCUs and that can’t be anything but good for all of us, private and public institutions. That said, we must be realistic that just as our institutions are facing challenging, difficult fiscal realities, he has rather huge financial issues on a national level. As much as I would like him to wave his hands and issue executive orders and implement laws and policies that would wipe away all of our troubles at Grambling State University and other HBCUs, that cannot happen and it will not happen.

The president increased the amount of PELL grant money this past academic year, and that’s a great thing. However, we’ve limited the timing of the use of this money to a strict academic year that doesn’t include summer sessions. For an institution like ours, that hurts. We have students who need PELL and other assistance, and because they have to work and take care of other responsibilities they take some of their courses during the summer. This has an impact on student retention because once some of these students stop school for a session some of them don’t return for several semesters or they stop altogether.

As much as I would like to see an increase in federal grants, I think the best we can hope for is that the current amounts stay the same rather than be decreased or lost. Students need reassurance that their government supports their pursuit of a strong academic foundation as a means to being gainfully employed professionals who pay federal, state and local taxes and contribute to their communities. We want the president to do all he can do to reduce the number of students who constantly ask ‘How can I go to school if I can’t afford it?’

Another thing President Obama can do to be helpful is to help institutions like ours to find more ways to diversify our funding as states like Louisiana drive us to do so by dramatically reducing our state funding. We need federal help connecting with endowments, grants, programs and scholarships to help us attract, recruit and maintain top-shelf faculty, staff and students. In the case of faculty in particular, to continue to be competitive, HBCUs have to hire qualified, well-educated, well-training professionals with competitive salaries, benefits and research opportunities.

As I’ve indicated, I know we won’t be getting all-at-one-time solutions, but Title III is another of those areas where our federal contribution amounts have declined, and that has a direct impact on what we can do with these supplemental funds. We appreciate the $3.4 million grant recently provided to Grambling for five years. However, we cannot afford to have this amount further reduced.

Frank G. Pogue, who holds a Ph.D. in sociology, is president of Grambling State University in Grambling, La. This is his fourth university presidency. He has been president or interim president at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where he was the first African American to serve as president of a historically white university in Pa.; Chicago State University and the State University of New York at Cobleskill.