SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) -- 40 days into his administration, President Trump signed an executive order giving the leaders of historically black colleges and universities direct access to the White House.
In 1965 the Higher Education Act officially recognized certain schools as HBCUs, it also granted them federal funds. Each President since Jimmy Carter has signed executive orders to strengthen HBCUs.
"So this is Historically Black colleges and universities executive order," Trump said from the oval office surrounded by administrators from HBCUs. "Very important to all of us."
With the order, Trump transferred oversight of the HBCU initiative from the Department of Education to the White House.
"It seems like a lot of HBCU Presidents who attended the meeting, some came away disappointed and thought it was more symbolic than substance,"Pastor Kelvin Lumpkin said. Lumpkin is pastor at Sarasota's Light of the World International Church. He's also an alumnus of Bethune-Cookman University, one of Florida's four HBCUs.
There is also Florida A&M University, Florida Memorial University and Edward Waters College. These schools have student populations that are at least 72% black. In total, they serve nearly 20,000 students.
For decades, HBCUs have struggled to survive, depending on their share of federal funding. Making matters worse, these schools lag behind others when it comes to endowments.
Under President Obama's administration, HBCUs received four billion dollars over a period of eight years--roughly $500 million annually. According to President Trump's 2018 budget, HBCUs will receive the same $500 million they've received in the past.
"I think with it being in the hands of the White House, it could be a great thing for HBCUs," Pastor Lumpkin said. "But not necessarily. It just depends how committed President Trump really is."
Sarasota Republican Club president Rod Thomson says the rich cultural heritage of HBCUs was needed more than a half century ago, but he questions whether it is still needed today.
"You take the University of Florida, Florida State or Michigan State," Thomson said. "They're totally representative of the communities in the state as far as racial and ethnic diversity."
Lumpkin says they are still important to the black community.
"For the collective self-esteem for African-Americans and especially African-American men. I think if for no other reason, HBCU's are still important," Lumpkin said.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, enrollment in HBCUs is on the rise. In 2010 there were 276,000 students enrolled at these schools. By 2015 the number had gone up to 293,000. Thomson says with more alumni, these schools need to rely more on their graduates and less on the federal government.
"If alum wants to fund them and want to fund them and help raise as well as have endowments for them-great," Thomson said.
Lumpkin agrees, but still hopes President Trump will continue to support these schools.
"I think those of us who are alumni have to do a better job. I don't know if we are as committed as we should be," said Lumpkin. "Of course we do need government help, but I also wonder if we don't need to take a look in the mirror and do better ourselves about supporting our institutions. It can't be just about going to homecoming. We need to start systematically giving."