RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) --President Donald Trump signed an executive order that promises to make Historically Black Colleges and Universities a priority. He signed that executive order surrounded by presidents of HBCUs from across the country.
A big win in that executive order moves the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education into the executive office of the White House.
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"What that means for us is there are layers of bureaucracy that will now no longer exist, in a sense, because we now have a much closer ear, or a much closer path to the president and that was what was missing from recent years," said Dr. Tashni Dubroy, president of Shaw University.
"We're encouraged by the executive order moving the HBCU White House initiative to the president's office, certainly elevates it in the administration from the U.S. Department of Education," said Dr. Everett Ward, president of St. Augustine's University.
Both local university presidents were present during the meetings with President Trump and his administration.
Dr. Dubroy described the meeting of HBCU presidents with a sitting U.S. president in the Oval Office historic.
HBCU presidents are hoping Congress will bolster Trump's actions to strengthen the schools with dramatically increased funding in the upcoming federal budget. They are calling for $25 billion for infrastructure, college readiness, financial aid and other priorities.
Under President Barack Obama's administration, historically black colleges and universities received $4 billion over seven years.
"The next step is the budget. You cannot have mission without money," Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Johnny Taylor told reporters outside the White House after the signing ceremony.
Many of the college presidents also went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby Congress for more funding. Taylor said the $25 billion is needed to make up for years of underfunding and would cover the country's more than 100 HBCUs.
Trump's order also directs the initiative to work with the private sector to strengthen the fiscal stability of HBCUS, make infrastructure improvements, provide job opportunities for students, and work with secondary schools to create a college pipeline and increase access and opportunity for federal grants and contracts.
"Access to Pell funding all year round, that is during the summertime, that would also help our students graduate earlier, which we're being criticized for right now," said Dr. Dubroy, who pointed out that 79 percent of Shaw students rely on Pell Grants. "So if we give the students the opportunity to attend classes during the summer with the use of Pell aid, it would be a win-win for both the students and for the government who is holding us accountable."
"The more that funds are available it will help students and parents navigate the financial strategy to get those students in school," Dr. Ward said.
They also look forward to help with infrastructure.
"Shaw University has buildings that are on the national historic preservation property list, so we would like to see money directly toward improving the infrastructure of our facilities," said Dr. Dubroy.
While Dr. Dubroy said some lawmakers were receptive to things such as year-round Pell Grants, GOP lawmakers said there are currently no concrete plans for increased funding.
Several of them attended meetings Tuesday that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., arranged with HBCU presidents, GOP officials and business leaders.
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Scott said he and Walker planned to personally push for more money for black colleges, and "hopefully we will be more successful than they have been in the last few years."
"Today, President Trump, like every president since Jimmy Carter, signed an Executive Order on HBCUs," said Congresswoman Alma Adams, a Democrat from North Carolina. "This order is a first step towards supporting our HBCUs but there is greater work to be done. Our schools need a real commitment and investment from this administration. Despite the buildup, this Executive Order doesn't include details about federal agency funding, grants, or contracts. This action on HBCUs is not sufficient to hold up to promises made by this administration. Our schools need substantial policy changes and increased funding to create a real impact on their campuses-not just a photo op in the Oval office. "
"We just have to wait and see what (will be) the budget priorities that will be represented in the president's budget," Dr. Ward said.
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Trump met briefly with the college leaders on Monday, as did Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Present alongside Trump was one of his most visible black aides, Omarosa Manigault, who holds degrees from two HBCUs: Central State University in Ohio and Howard University in Washington.
President Ronald Reagan created the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities by executive order in 1981. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush established a Presidential Advisory Board on HBCUs, and in 2002, President George W. Bush transferred the initiative from the White House to the Department of Education.
Nearly 300,000 students are enrolled at historically black colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While the number has increased over the past generation, the percentage of HBCU attendees among the overall black college student population has decreased from 18 percent in 1976 to 8 percent in 2014.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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