MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now we turn to our regular segment Words You'll Hear. That's where we take a word or phrase that will be in the news and use that to understand what that story is all about. And this week, our word is actually an acronym - HBCUs. That stands for historically black colleges and universities.
The Trump administration is scheduled to meet with the presidents of at least some of the HBCUs at the White House tomorrow. Now, this meeting has become a matter of some controversy. Some background - in February, more than 60 presidents of historically black colleges and universities met with President Trump to talk about his decision to move an initiative to support HBCUs out of the Department of Education and to the White House.
Subsequently, though, a number of observers criticized that meeting as little more than a photo op. Tomorrow's meeting will mark the first with black college leaders since then. Michael Lomax is CEO of the United Negro College Fund. That's a group that raises scholarship funds. He tells us he plans to attend tomorrow's meeting but says that many of those who attended the February gathering may not join him.
MICHAEL LOMAX: I think their reluctance to attend the meeting by black college presidents who had come to Washington in February is really the result of both the inactivity of the administration and some of the activities of the administration. Inactivity - that they haven't appointed the members of the advisory council that serve the White House initiative. And they haven't come forward with a plan and programs that reflect the administration's commitment to support historically black colleges and universities.
And when you look at the budget that they submitted, they cut significantly financial aid programs that have impact for low-income students. So, you know, I think we've seen real concern among black college presidents, which I suspect is going to reduce the amount of attendance that was pretty strong in February. And it may be less tomorrow.
MARTIN: I understand that one of the other issues was that the administration had not assigned an executive director to lead something called The White House Initiative On Historically Black Colleges And Universities. And they did today. It is a man named Johnathan Holifield. And I understand that he is a business consultant. He's a former professional football player. Are you satisfied with this appointment?
LOMAX: I'm concerned about the appointment. I don't know Mr. Holifield. I'm going to go to the White House tomorrow and meet him. I'm going to hear from him. But I think that there is reason to be concerned that someone selected doesn't have a background with this community and really no experience. He didn't attend an HBCU. I don't know what basis he's been selected to do this job.
MARTIN: Just make the case of why these institutions still matter and why you think they're worthy of the White House's support. I think there are people who will wonder, what is the value of the HBCUs at this point in our nation's history when all colleges and universities are open to all students of whatever background, which was not the case when many of these institutions were founded?
LOMAX: These institutions enroll 10 percent of all African-Americans who are pursuing post-secondary degrees. These institutions award 17 percent of the bachelor's degrees that African-Americans earn. These institutions have, for 150 years, demonstrated their capability to take low-income, first generation African-Americans and students, regardless of race, and send them onto roles of leadership across the profession.
So these are very effective institutions with strong outcomes. And we're going to make our case to the White House and to the Congress. We're going to enlist and activate our alumni and our supporters. And this may be a difficult journey, but we intend to stay on it.
MARTIN: Michael Lomax is the CEO and the president of the United Negro College Fund. We reached him at his home office in Atlanta. Michael Lomax, thanks so much for speaking with us.
LOMAX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.