This election may be the most important of our lifetimes. It will determine whether we build on President Barack Obama’s legacy to create a more just and equitable society, or let all the progress we’ve made get ripped away.
Every issue we care about is effectively on the ballot. That includes education. I believe it’s essential to support HBCUs, which graduate almost half of the black teachers in America and have helped millions of African Americans gain a foothold in the middle class.
By contrast, Donald Trump has no plan to support HBCUs. His view of black communities is both ignorant and insulting. He says—to largely white audiences—that African-American neighborhoods are plagued by poverty, and that people get shot just walking down the street. He claims black communities suffer from “horrible education.” He asks them, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
The answer: A lot.
For starters, Trump misses so much about what makes the African-American community strong and vibrant. If he ever bothered to actually look for it, he might see the pride that black parents feel watching their kids thrive in school, the widespread success of black-owned businesses, or the triumphs of black leaders in every field.
HBCUs are a big part of this story. Over the course of the campaign, I’ve visited nearly a dozen historically black schools—not just to show my support for their mission, but to shine a spotlight on many of their talented and inspiring students. In a Clinton-Kaine administration, we’d ensure that HBCUs can continue to remain a pivotal force in our society—not just for African-American students, but for all the students that attend them.
This work has never been more important. Over the past few decades, more Americans of every background have been enrolling in higher education. But African Americans still face unique barriers when it comes to graduating college. Black students are still less likely to graduate within six years, and they are significantly more likely to need to work part time while in school. So we need to do more to close the gaps and give all our kids the best chance to succeed.
Here’s how we’ll do it.
First, we’ll make college much more affordable—and in many cases, we’ll make it completely tuition-free. I worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders on a plan to make sure every student whose family makes under $125,000 can attend an in-state public university tuition-free, and all students can attend community college tuition-free. And we’ll work toward making sure students attending public HBCUs never have to take out loans to cover the other costs of obtaining a degree, like textbooks, activities and living expenses.
Second, we’ll help graduates who are already weighed down with student debt. Since black students at any given institution are more likely to need to take out loans and graduate with more student debt than their white peers, this issue disproportionately impacts the African-American community. Our plan will let them refinance that debt, ensuring they never have to pay more than 10 percent of their income. And if they work in a public field for 10 years, we’ll simplify the process for forgiving those loans altogether.
Finally, we’ll make a historic $25 billion investment across all HBCUs—public and private—so that each one has the funding to keep creating opportunities and providing more support services for underserved students. That includes expanding on-campus child care and creating more scholarships for students who are also parents to make it easier for them to obtain a degree.
This has to be more than just a public-policy issue. It has to be a voting issue.
I began my career at the Children’s Defense Fund, working to help children with disabilities get the education they deserved and going undercover to expose segregated academies in the South. I worked for a remarkable woman named Marian Wright Edelman, who said that “education is a precondition to survival in America.”
Today those words ring as true as ever. We ought to make it a national priority to provide a quality education to every single American—no matter what they look like, where they live or how much money they have. That’s the only way to make sure the next generation not only survives—but thrives—in the global economy.
So, on Nov. 8, I hope you’ll stand with us. Vote for the kind of country we want to be. And remember that all it takes is a small mark on a ballot to make a huge mark on our nation’s future.
Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president.