Obama commencement attack ignored Trump's support for record funding for black schools

'Not only has President Trump made the largest federal investment into funding HBCUs in American history, he’s also led on criminal justice reform, Opportunity Zones, school choice'

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HBCU Graduation
The 2017 Howard University Commencement Ceremony
(Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Last Updated:
May 20, 2020 - 11:15pm

The 2020 Trump reelection campaign is finding irony in former President Obama using a recent graduation ceremony at a black college as a backdrop to attack President Trump, considering Trump has signed record funding for historically black colleges and universities.

Obama gave a virtual commencement address Saturday to 2020 HBCU graduates in which he knocked the Trump administration by saying the coronavirus pandemic has "fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing."

Obama previously held the record for signing into law the most federal money for HBCUs. Trump broke the record in 2018. 

"It’s disappointing that the former president would politicize an HBCU commencement speech to attack President Trump," Ken Farnaso, deputy press secretary for the Trump campaign, told Just the News. “Not only has President Trump made the largest federal investment into funding HBCUs in American history, he’s also led on criminal justice reform, Opportunity Zones, school choice, and not to mention that during the his administration, black Americans have reached record levels of success under his leadership," 

The office of Barack and Michelle Obama did not respond to a request for comment.

African-American leader Ja’Ron Smith, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of American Innovation at the White House, told Just the News that the administration has actively pursued support for HBCUs.

“One of President Trump’s first actions in 2017 was to create a board of advisers to focus on the issues that HBCUs and African-American students face," Smith told Just the News. "We’re proud of the incredible work that the Trump administration has done, and how under President Trump’s leadership we’ve boosted HBCUs and students through the Capital Finance Board, increased Pell Grant funding and made HBCU funding permanent for future generations.”

Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed reported in January that "during the last three fiscal years, federal programs that the United Negro College Fund deems most important to HBCUs have seen a collective increase of more than $200 million in funding." 

Fain also reported that HBCU leaders praised the March 2018 decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to cancel the repayment of more than $300 million in federal relief loans that four historically black colleges took out after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005."

"I saved HBCUs," Trump told the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. "We saved them. They were going out, and we saved them." 

The administration also expanded access to federal support for HBCUs with religious affiliations and Trump in December signed into law a bipartisan bill known as the FUTURE Act, which made permanent $255 million in annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Math funding for minority-serving colleges, including roughly $85 million specifically allocated to HBCUs.