Media Made Mythology: Trump & HBCU Funding

Over the course of my career, I have worked with a number of journalists. I always get to know the higher education reporters where I live, as well as the national reporters. These are the people who develop expertise by studying our sector and then are able to write accurate, thoughtful stories.

Well, you probably have seen newspapers cut staff and combine positions. As a college student I read the Atlanta Journal Constitution daily. Well recently there has been news that the AJC may eliminate the daily print edition.

Michael J. Petrilli sums up the changes in this post from 2009. He writes:

… the demise of the daily newspaper is bad for the local “conversation” around education. And even if papers survive, already the education beat is being squeezed. Those reporters who remain on the job are asked to cover higher education as well as K-12 schools, meaning they have less time to develop expertise in specific areas. They are pushed to write shorter articles, leaving little space for in-depth reporting. And editors want stories that are hyperlocal, at the school level, not missives about the latest school board policies, or dry accounts of state regulatory actions.

There is a whole association for education writers. I’ve been a speaker at one of their conferences. These are the folks who should be writing about higher education. But sadly, like most things, when budgets need to be cut, we start with education.

With fewer higher ed reporters, it seems like any and everyone writes articles about higher education nowadays. Heck, they aren’t even writing article. They are doing short posts to explain complex policies.

Let’s take for example the often-cited article from WUSA 9 TV in Washington DC, “VERIFY: Has Trump given more money to HBCUs than any other president?”

First of all, the title is ridiculous.

Each year the President submits a budget to Congress (called a skinny budget). The House and Senate appropriations committees review and work together to present the final budget for the president to sign. The actual “giving” of the money is done by Congress. The president lets us know his priorities, and then Congress decides how to fund his priorities as well as their own. Often, they aren’t in alignment so lots of negotiation happens.

That’s the process for the now $6 trillion plus budget.

So, what happens when a TV station has a multiplatform content creator who is not a higher education reporter make a post about HBCU funding?

Oh, add the fact that she is a 2017 graduate of the University of Maryland (meaning someone with no HBCU experience and less than one year of professional experience). What you get is an article that is passed around like a joint by MAGA minions to prove (1) how great Trump was for HBCUs, (2) that he gave more than Obama, and (3) that he’s not a racist.

This doesn’t make her a bad journalist, but she was completely unqualified to post this piece (I’m not really sure what to call this).

The post, a mere 202 words, ends with the declarative statement,

But in 2018, Trump appropriated more than three hundred and sixty million dollars — thirty two million more than Obama. So we can verify, Trump has spent more than any other president on HBCUs.

They posted the chart of historical funding, which shows the $360M for three programs.

The word choice is poor. Again, presidents don’t appropriate, Congress does. Some would say, “but he signed the bill” so he gave them the money. The bill was over $4 Trillion so we’re talking about a small fraction. This was not a separate action for HBCUs.

Therefore, we have to ask what evidence do we have that Trump intentionally sought to increase HBCU funding?

For the FY 2018 budget, Trump actually proposed CUTS to the 3 HBCU programs listed. A higher education reporter would know the process and look at the Department of Education budget tables. There you can see what the President requested, what the House proposed, what the Senate proposed, and the final appropriation. Here is the FY 18 table:

Lines 307, 310 and 311, in the 2018 appropriation column, match the top row for 2018 in the WUSA chart. If you compare against the 2017 appropriation column, they are all increased.

But look at the next column, “2018 President’s Budget.” This is what Trump ASKED for. Line 307? Trump proposed a $465,000 CUT. Line 310? A $120,000 CUT.

Line 311?

You see ZERO. A $7.5 million CUT.

The “fact check” post giving Trump credit for giving HBCUs more money never mentions that he proposed cutting over $8M. As you can see, the House and Senate committees initially proposed flat funding. But in the end, there were substantial increases.


With Trump wanting to spend more money on Defense, Democrats cut a deal to add $500B to the budget which would help fund their domestic priorities.

Who then is responsible for the big HBCU increase that Trump is credited with? Kamala Harris (an HBCU grad) and Doug Jones. Once the new funding was released, they went to work immediately. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, one of the major HBCU advocacy groups whose president became chair of Trump’s HBCU Board of Advisors, gave them credit, saying:

U.S. Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) recently announced that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will receive a 14-percent increase in federal funding in the Senate’s omnibus spending bill, from $244.7 million in FY17 to $279.6 million in FY18.

The funding increase follows a request made by Jones and Harris last month in a letter to the leadership of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

The most accurate statement would be that during President Trump’s first year, HBCUs received record funding through the efforts of Senators Harris and Jones, in spite of Trump’s budget proposal to cut funding,

In fact, all four of Trump’s budgets either proposed flat funding or cuts for HBCUs.

But since the “fact checker” made a big deal out of Trump, let’s see what Biden’s first budget looks like.

The 2021 appropriation column was Trump’s last year. Congress continued to add funding to HBCUs so there was good growth. The 2022 Omnibus is the bill that funded Biden’s first year. Lines f, h and i correspond to lines 307, 310 and 311 from FY18.

Those new figures are $362.8M, $91.1M, and $14.8M.

If I were to write it like WUSA did for Trump, it would say:

But in 2022, Biden appropriated more than four hundred and sixty-eight million dollars — thirty-two million more than Trump. So we can verify, Biden has spent more than any other president on HBCUs.

More telling, look at Biden’s FY 23 budget (the last column in the chart above). He proposes a record $525.8M for HBCUs, a $58M increase. Trump never came close to that figure.

Here are the take-a-ways:

  1. Trump tried to cut funding for HBCUs. All increases were in spite of him, done by Congress.
  2. Because Congress ignored his budget, HBCUs saw increased funding each year during his administration.
  3. Biden’s first year is now the new record for HBCU funding, increases that he has proposed and continued to propose going into his second budget. He has proposed the largest amount of funding for HBCUs in history.
  4. BIGGEST TAKE-A-WAY- We need more diversity in the media! A story done by a cub journalist about an industry she knows nothing about, and a community to which she does not belong is a mess. She didn’t even think to ask UNCF or TMCF or NAFEO to help interpret the data, probably because she knows nothing about those groups or what the acronyms mean. This should have never been posted.

The End.



12th president of Philander Smith College. 7th president of Dillard University. Now in an Intermission.

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Walter M. Kimbrough