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Lawmakers in Washington are taking steps to ensure historically black colleges and universities across the country get the funding they need to fulfill their important missions. With Orangeburg home to South Carolina State University and Claflin University, and Voorhees College and Denmark Technical College located in The T&D Region, fostering the future of the institutions is high on the agenda here.

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has been joined by Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons and others in sponsoring the HBCU Partners Act, legislation requiring federal agencies to work more closely with HBCUs. The bill, introduced in February and already passed by the Senate, would make law of a 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump that instructed government institutions to work alongside HBCUs to locate opportunities for federal grants and government contracts for students.

Scott, the Senate's only black Republican, announced introduction of the legislation during the Feb. 6 HBCU fly-in, an annual event during which HBCU presidents from around the country travel to Washington to meet with lawmakers and other officials. It would require federal agencies to submit annual agency plans to the secretary of education and the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. The plans must outline key goals and objectives within each agency aimed toward furthering HBCU success.

"Today was a great way to kick off Black History Month as we welcomed America's more than 100 historically black colleges and universities to our nation's capital,” Scott said in a statement on Feb. 6. “Black history is American history and we all stand on the shoulders of great men and women who came before us paving a way forward. I am proud to introduce the HBCU Partners Act with Sen. Coons to build off of the president's 2017 HBCU executive order to ensure we are doing our best to unleash the enormous potential of our students."

Coons said of the legislation: “HBCUs today continue their tradition of opening higher education to new generations of students. They educate 300,000 students across the country, 70 percent of whom receive Pell grants, and charge almost 30 percent less tuition than their peer institutions. I'm proud to make sure that federal agencies actively work to support HBCUs' critical missions."

Those missions are of major importance in Orangeburg, where S.C. State, South Carolina’s only publicly supported HBCU, and Claflin, the oldest HBCU in the state, are vital across the board from educational opportunity to community quality of life. And they have major economic impact.

Just how significant economically was quantified in a 2017 study commissioned by the United Negro College Fund. S.C. State’s total economic impact is projected at $145 million. The estimate includes direct spending by S.C. State on faculty, employees, academic programs and operations — and by students attending the institution, as well as the follow-on effects of that spending. According to 2014 numbers, S.C. State generated more than 1,546 jobs.

The Claflin impact is similarly significant, with total economic impact at $79 million. Every dollar spent by Claflin and its students produces $1.04 in initial and subsequent spending for the local and regional economies. Claflin employed 835 people in 2014.

The only way HBCUs can truly reap the full benefits of the Trump executive order is through this legislation, which also codifies the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, ensuring an ongoing avenue for the institutions’ priorities and policy concerns to be raised.

Scott predicts the HBCU legislation will pass the House in short order, strengthening the federal government-HBCU connection in making sure the institutions have access to resources they need to provide students with the best education possible.

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