Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker, whose parents graduated from Fisk University and North Carolina Central University, unveiled Tuesday an ambitious proposal to invest $100 billion in historically black colleges.
The HBCU plan by the U.S. senator from New Jersey represents the biggest yet in dollar terms by Democratic candidates courting black voters ahead of the 2020 presidential vote - and comes two weeks after several candidates visited black colleges in Atlanta.
It also coincides with recent efforts by Republicans to attract more African American support. President Donald Trump launched his Black Voices for Trump group at an event in Atlanta last month, after just 8% of African Americans cast ballots for him nationwide in 2016.
Booker’s plan calls for an expansion of college access by doubling the value of Pell Grants from $6,200 to $12,400, while requiring that 10% of Second Chance Pell Grant programs are given to black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. More than 70% of students at HBCUs get Pell Grants.
He is calling for an additional $30 billion in grants to expand and improve STEM education at HBCUs and another $30 billion in grants to upgrade facilities and infrastructure at the schools. And as part of his initiative to address climate change, Booker will require that at least 10% of his $400 billion 50-State Climate Moonshot Hubs be based at HBCUs and MSIs.
Rival Democratic hopeful Joe Biden has proposed that $70 billion be invested in HBCUs. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have proposed at least $50 billion. Kamala Harris had proposed $60 billion before dropping out of the race on Tuesday.
“I don’t see HBCUs as charity,” Booker said Tuesday on SiriusXM’s “The Joe Madison Show.” “I see them as investments and partners.”
Earlier, in a statement about the proposal, Booker said: “HBCU’s make our country stronger and more reflective of the diversity that makes us so great. I am here today because of the power of these institutions to uplift and bring about opportunity to black Americans.”
While 1986 Howard University graduate Harris was the only Democratic candidate to have attended an HBCU, Booker has always understood the role that the institutions played in his life.
His mother Carolyn is a 1961 graduate of Fisk University in Nashville and later served on the school’s board of trustees.
His father Cary was born to a single mother in Hendersonville, N.C. and was only able to attend what was then North Carolina College at Durham, after members of his church sent around a collection plate to help him pay for his first semester.
After graduating in 1962, he went on to become one of the first black executives at IBM. Cary Booker died in 2013 but lived in Atlanta, where he was an active member of the Greater Atlanta NCCU Alumni Association.
“He was a man of great ambition,” Booker said at NCCU’s 2016 commencement, where he was the speaker. “He broke barriers and smashed down doors in his life.”
Booker’s proposal comes as his campaign struggles to remain relevant and qualify for the December debate. Based on polling and donors, only six candidates have qualified so far.
Each of the candidates has leaned on black colleges for their support to shore up their black bases. And it is a critical one.
Nearly 300,000 students attend the nation’s 101 accredited black colleges, which graduates more than half of the nation’s black doctors, lawyers and judges, and 40% of its African American members of Congress. Locally, more than 8,000 students are enrolled throughout the Atlanta University Center.
Young voters, particularly African Americans, helped propel Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 and to reelection in 2012.
That is why two weeks ago when Atlanta hosted the Democratic debates, several candidates including Warren, Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders made appearances on HBCU campuses.
An appearance by former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick at Morehouse was canceled due to low attendance. Patrick later apologized on CNN about “trying to do too much” in scheduling the appearance on short notice and promised to return.
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