Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced a dramatic $100 billion plan to support historically black colleges and universities on Tuesday should he be elected president, a proposal his campaign called a historic effort to support communities of color.
Booker, who is running to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020, unveiled a slew of proposals to support HBCUs and minority-serving institutions that focus on both immediate protections and long-term strategies to help them weather rough economic times. The efforts include grant programs to bolster STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, legislation that would make some institutions more affordable for low-income students and an initiative to make historically black institutions bastions of climate-focused research.
“HBCUs make our country stronger and more reflective of the diversity that makes us so great,” Booker, whose parents were both educated at HBCUs, said in a statement. “I am here today because of the power of these institutions to uplift and bring about opportunity to Black Americans. As president, I will redouble our efforts to support and invest in HBCUs across the country ― my mother and father wouldn’t have it any other way.” (Booker attended Stanford, Oxford and Yale.)
The senator’s campaign said the proposal was the boldest investment strategy for such institutions among Democratic candidates and comes at a time when many HBCUs are on the brink of financial collapse.
Enrollment at many historically black colleges and universities ― there are 102 in the United States ― has been falling for years, and some institutions have struggled to figure out how to survive in a changing economy. HBCUs as a whole also have endowments that are about 70% lower than at non-HBCUs and have seen federal funding slashed in recent years, according to the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization focused on education.
But the institutions play an outsized role in educating Black Americans: 1 in 5 with a bachelor’s degree received it from an HBCU.
Booker’s plan would create mechanisms to help counter that unsteady future, and the senator said he planned to link investment at HBCUs with initiatives to tackle climate change. Under his proposal, at least 10% of Booker’s $400 billion “Moonshot Hubs” ― research and development centers focused on climate innovation ― would be at the institutions.
“Each hub would be focused on reasserting our global leadership in Research and Development (R&D) and leading the way in tackling the most important challenges in basic science, applied research, manufacturing, and commercialization,” Booker’s campaign said in a press release on Tuesday.
Booker has lagged behind his fellow Democratic candidates in the polls, despite strong showings at the party’s debates. He has yet to qualify for the December debate but has been waging a widespread appeal to voters in recent weeks.
Several other Democratic presidential candidates have unveiled proposals to support HBCUs and court Black voters, including Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the only candidate who attended a historically black university. Harris was educated at Howard University and released a $60 billion plan to invest in such institutions should she be elected to the White House.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have also made overtures to the institutions. Sanders said last month he planned to pump billions into HBCUs should he be elected, saying that, for years, “too many HBCUs have struggled financially ... from a lack of federal resources.”