by Freddie Allen
NNPA News Service
WASHINGTON – It was a reunion of sorts. The presidents of seven Black colleges met African-American newspaper publishers for breakfast. The setting was the annual convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association here and the goal was exploring ways to strengthen a partnership that predated the modern civil rights movement.
Now, as the federal government cuts education funding to colleges and universities and threatens to double the interest rates on student loans, Black college presidents are again turning to the Black Press for support.
"In the four years I served as president, we lost 50 percent of our state appropriations," said George Cooper, recently retired president of South Carolina State University. "The budget decreased from $26 million to $11 million." Ninety percent of the freshman students entering South Carolina State are eligible for Pell grants, said Cooper, meaning that their combined family income is less than $30,000.
Cooper suggested that the Black Press can help HBCUs convey their commitment and mission of providing access to opportunities to parents and students.
Black colleges and universities make up 3 percent of the higher education institutions in the U.S. but nearly 25 percent of the baccalaureate degrees are awarded to African Americans, said Cooper
The Black Press, Cooper added, can also explain federal legislation affecting black colleges and students, including a proposal that could have doubled interest rates on subsidized Stafford college loans if Congress hadn't acted. Lawmakers were forced to work on a rushed agreement to avoid the rate hike, based partly on political pressure and negative coverage in the media.
Cooper also urged publishers to create a virtual communications network with HBCU presidents.
Norman Francis, president of Xavier University in New Orleans, said he still gets asked if black colleges are even relevant today. The next civil rights revolution, he said, will be on education.
Claude Perkins, president of Virginia Union University in Richmond, invited the Black Press to "get to know us. You need to get to know who we are, what we do and what our values are."
Even as university officials implored the publishers to open their pages to the ongoing financial plight of African-American colleges, several of the publishers pushed back, noting that communication and effective partnerships live on a two-way street.
"We're almost 190 years old," said John Warren publisher of the San Diego Voice and Viewpoint and the Florida Tribune. "We've been doing what we do a long time. We need your people to understand who we are and what we do from a standpoint of cooperation and not from a standpoint of second thought."
(Freddie Allen is a NNPA News Service Washington Correspondent.)