Trump appoints HBCU veteran to lead black college advisory board

‘A big personality and rock star status’

A week after Concordia College closed its doors, President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that Johnny C. Taylor Jr., the former head of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, will become chairman of the President's Board of Advisers on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

Taylor, who is now CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management, after seven years running the Marshall Fund, will work closely with Johnathan Holifield, who was appointed executive director of the President’s White House Initiative on HBCUs last year.

» READ: The AJC’s full HBCU Series: A Threatened Heritage

“Employers depend on our country’s education institutions as a reliable source for the talent they need. HBCUs are a critical conduit for this talent,” Taylor said at the White House announcement. “This president’s advisory board can be a nexus between those institutions and employers.” 

Taylor left the Marshall College Fund late last year. The organization provides funding for publicly supported HBCUs, where more than 80 percent of all black college students are enrolled.

“I think that he is a good choice, because Johnny has worked hard in this space. He has influence and access with this administration to critical things,” said William Fisher, who runs the U.S. Education Department’s HBCU Capital Financing Program. “He has a big personality and rock star status. That will make his advocacy go a long way.” 

Taylor’s appointment comes a year after Trump signed an executive order that created the board, and a year after the president promised to pump a half-billion dollars into HBCU programs. 

“We have made great strides in strengthening HBCUs, a cherished and vital institution in our country – very important,” Trump said. 

»IN-DEPTH: Perilous times for black colleges

Last year, Trump met with several HBCU presidents in the Oval Office for what many alumni, students and educational observers said was little more than a photo opportunity for Trump.

This year, at the HBCU Fly-In, sponsored by congressional Republicans, college leaders instead met with some of America's top companies, like Google, Starbucks and Walmart. There was no visit to the Oval Office.

But Ronald A. Johnson, president of Clark Atlanta University, told the Associated Press that some progress has been made since last year, specifically with the restoration of Pell Grants, which provide crucial funding for students with financial need.

 "A promise was made,"  Johnson said. “It took more than a minute to put together the actual plan, but at least summer Pell" — part of the year-round grants — "came out of that." 

There are currently 101 black colleges listed with the Department of Education. That number is set to go down in May after Concordia College Alabama closes. 

The 95-year-old Lutheran school was $8 million dollars in debt and down to 400 students. 

In 2010, Concordia had more than 800 students, reflective of the more than 325,000 students nationwide, who were attending HBCUs — the highest number ever. 

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But by 2015, enrollment had declined by 10 percent — compared to the 4 percent drop for all colleges during that period, federal data shows. Between 2010 and 2015, some 20 black colleges saw enrollment plummet by more than 25 percent; only 22 black colleges saw increases during that time. 

“Johnny is certainly knowledgeable about HBCUs with his work at Thurgood Marshall for the last seven years,” said Charlie Nelms, a longtime HBCU president, administrator and now educational consultant. “He is familiar with the opportunities and challenges associated with HBCUs. Hopefully, he will be able to use that experience to work with HBCUs leaders to advance the cause and agenda of black colleges.”

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