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North Carolina lawmakers form caucus to support HBCUs

Courtesy of North Carolina A&T State University
This file photo shows North Carolina A&T students at a graduation ceremony.

North Carolina lawmakers are creating a new bipartisan legislative caucus focused on supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“This is historic. We will be the first state legislature in the country to launch a bipartisan, bicameral HBCU caucus,” said Rep. Zack Hawkins, a Democrat from Durham and graduate of Elizabeth City State and North Carolina Central universities.

Hawkins noted that in North Carolina, 44% of Black four-year graduates come from HBCUs. North Carolina has five public and five private HBCUs, and more students graduate from HBCUs here than in any other state.

Sen. Gladys Robinson — a Democrat from Greensboro and graduate of Bennett College and North Carolina A&T State University — said the mission of the caucus will be to educate and engage lawmakers, “with a focus on the successes and benefits of the state's 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities and to identify and address challenges that impede their ability to provide the highest quality and equitable education to their students.”

Robinson said she and Sen. Paul Lowe are already working on a bill to study issues affecting HBCUs.

Rep. Jon Hardister — a Republican from Greensboro who chairs the House higher education committee — said the majority party will “absolutely” give serious consideration to legislation proposed by the caucus.

“In fact, I can demonstrate that we already have made bipartisan progress in supporting HBCUs,” Hardister said.

Hardister cited the General Assembly’s decision in the last biennial state budget to weigh some federal COVID relief funding for private colleges more heavily to HBCUs.

Robinson also noted the General Assembly’s decision to match federal agricultural funding in that budget to support North Carolina A&T when it was in danger of losing federal dollars. The state had never before met the matching requirement set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for this HBCU’s research and extension services, while routinely providing matching funds for the state’s other land grant university, N.C State.

Hardister highlighted the economic impact of HBCUs on the state, and their role in building pipelines for teachers, engineers, pilots and other careers that serve the public.

“Every one of these schools has an objective to provide a sound quality education," Hardister said. "That's something that we as General Assembly can look at, determine how can we better invest in these schools and support them and support their mission."

The new caucus will hold its first meeting next week.

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Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org