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Making the investment: U.S. education secretary visits S.C. State

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The 12th U.S. secretary of education said putting the needs of students first in everything from finding optimum ways to deliver instruction to relieving crippling debt is a part of the investment that must be made at all institutions of higher education, but particularly historically Black colleges and universities.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona joined 6th District Congressman and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn during a Monday visit to South Carolina State University, where he met with students and other HBCU presidents.

"It was a great visit. I recognize that we're going to continue to fight for our HBCUs and our institutions of higher education in general across the country," Cardona said.

"More and more Americans have access to college thanks to this administration, and (with) the work that we're going to do to make college more affordable and to ensure that all students are able to chase that American Dream, it helps when you have leaders like Rep. Clyburn who are fighting day in and day out not only for the students in his district, but the students across the country," he said.

Cardona and Clyburn spoke with students about pandemic recovery and the support they've received from SC State and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona joined 6th District Congressman and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn during a Monday visit to South Carolina State University, where he met with students and other HBCU presidents.

Under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), HBCUs in the state have received more than $12 million in funding. Just last month, SC State and Clinton College were awarded an additional $5 million through ARP. In 2021 alone, the Biden-Harris administration made a $5.8 billion investment in HBCUs.

"When you see universities like this one using the funds to help students, to me those are signs of recovery. When I got here today, I drove through the campus and I saw students moving in, I saw parents with their children, bringing them into college. Those are signs of recovery for me," Cardona said.

"We've got a lot of work to do, and we're going to continue to keep our students first and ensure that all students across the country have the opportunity to go to school and achieve their potential. ... What you're doing for students has been exceptional, and I think the whole country could learn from what you're doing here on this campus," the education secretary said.

Students shared how their the pandemic impacted their learning, with some having done better with virtual learning than others, while some preferred a hybrid approach.

Cardona said it is all about creating the best access to learning, with it being a good idea to at least have a "hybrid option in higher education."

Zaria Sumpter, a sophomore drama major from Orangeburg, said, "I think that we need better teachers that actually care for our students," while student Levette Mcrae said more funding is needed for arts and sports and not just academics. 

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Cardona said barriers to student success have to be overcome, including with creating pathways to career success earlier in a student's educational journey before they reach college.

"I heard over and over that relationships matter. At the end of the day, this is a people business, education is a people business. So it's really important that the connections that are made are founded on strong positive relationships," he said.

"The work that we're trying to do is elevating student voice, ensuring that as we reopen our schools, we're not going back to the way it was before. Students supports have to be a bigger part of it," Cardona said.

He continued, "The president not only in the American Rescue Plan, but in the recent Safer Communities Act, is putting money toward school social workers, support specialists, people that can help students, meet them where they are."

Cardona said the HERFF funding was intended to ensure safe campuses and that students have adequate supports both academically and mentally.

"Half of the HERFF funding -- $40 billion dollars across the country -- goes directly towards student aid ... Not only were universities able to stay open -- I've heard from presidents who said, 'If it weren't for that funding, we'd be closed' -- but many students were able to stay matriculated," he said.

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He continued, "The president's budget proposal also asks for increases in higher education spending, higher education funding for HBCUs, which, as the congressman mentioned, has been underfunded for years. So at the federal level, there's a level of urgency. We want to see that urgency matched at the state level for HBCUs, as well."

He said investing properly in education systems includes investing in student support systems.

"Many of these students are dealing with life issues that happened during the pandemic. So taking care of those things, ensuring that they have access to support, mentorship. ... Also, another thing that doesn't get a lot of attention, but we know it's true, there's been deferred maintenance on so many of those campuses.

"So the air quality is poor, the infrastructure is poor. We're doing everything in the Biden-Harris administration to listen to our universities, listen to our students, provide flexibilities in funding so that they can get back on their feet and give students a top-tier education," Cardona said.

Clyburn said deferred maintenance needs are starting to get the attention in the state that they deserve, including at S.C. State.

"They have now begun to take a look at that are now making the investments that we need in this school. I think the president's headaches are going to go away very soon thanks to the enlightened leadership that we currently have in the State of South Carolina, utilizing the value of this institution," he said.

Sophomore business management major Kenard Holmes said he enjoyed being a part of the student panel, including stressing the need for more attention to career centers and postsecondary support.

He said the visit from Secretary Cardona was meaningful -- and needed.

"This visit today from the secretary of education opened up a door to student leadership because I just recently became a student leader in the past four or five months. For them to open the door to me to hear my voice, to really hear what the students are saying, or how they're feeling and to take that into bigger rooms that we don't have access to, that's a beautiful thing and a great opportunity," he said.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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