Tony Allen, Ph.D., is the CEO of Delaware State University, a comprehensive research institution with a $140 million budget, a $27 million research portfolio, and a clear mission to increase educational access and opportunity for all.
The 1890 land-grant institution is home to four academic colleges, a burgeoning graduate school, and recently completed the acquisition of nearby Wesley College. The school serves over 5,000 undergraduate students, graduate students, and adult learners in Delaware, online, and
internationally. Below are excerpts from a Zoom interview with US Black Engineer (USBE) magazine on Delaware State and other historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Click here to read the full interview.
USBE: What are your thoughts on HBCU underfunding?
Dr. Tony Allen: Over the last 24 months, I would say the elevation of HBCUs is in considerable measure because, as I’ve said many times, one
pandemic exposed another—when you think of COVID-19 and its spare realities, particularly on communities of color and then, right on its heels, the almost unwatchable murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and so on across the country.
It became a moment for Black institutions and, quite frankly, many institutions. Corporate America responded in kind, relative to wanting to put their stamp on diversity, equity, and inclusion in a renewed way. I’ve said to my colleagues that we have to turn this moment into a movement.
One of the ways to do that is making sure we are using our dollars wisely, particularly those that have come unusually, and sometimes from unusual places, to make the right investments for the future. But also continue to keep the momentum up with respect to the elevation of HBCUs overall.
My strong view is that we are the best return on investment in higher education, particularly when you think about our ability to educate
more Black students thoughtfully than many other institutions in the country and to be the core driver of Black students coming into the Black middle class. So, you think about 3 percent of all universities today, and we are still educating 20 percent of all Black students in the country. That is a significant return.
The untold story of all of that is that we continue to do more with less. And now we are starting to say less is no longer acceptable. So, when I
look into the opportunities that have come our way, whether it be federal government infusion, which has been significant, or support from the corporate community, which has also been important, I don’t expect the window will be that wide open forever. It behooves us to keep our institutions at the forefront of reconsidering social and economic mobility because nobody else can do better.
USBE: What are you doing for HBCUs in addition to everything else?
Dr. Allen: I’m humbled to be the White House Advisory Board chair on HBCUs. We are putting together a committee now. That advisory board has been up and running since the Carter administration in 1976. Its import has been significant, but it does vary with respect to impact. I plan to make sure our committee is very active and impactful throughout our tenure with the administration. When I first took the appointment in September, I wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter to HBCU presidents. In that, I floated what could be four priorities.
One was physical infrastructure. This notion that we could do a much better job advocating and demanding support for the historical inequities that have beset us versus our mainstream peers around learning and living spaces on our campuses is critically important.
I already know that the quality of instruction you receive at an HBCU is excellent. Our living and learning spaces need to match that quality of instruction. The second piece was about building capacity around HBCUs ready to go from R2 status to R1. There are 11 HBCUs that are R2, and none are R1.
Research universities are categorized as R1, R2, and R3 by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. R1 is considered “very high research” and R2 is considered “high research activity.”
Dr. Allen: We have the capability, the scholarship, the faculty, and the support to propel several of our institutions into R1 status. I know that folks like Dr. David Wilson (Morgan State University president) are very much in agreement, and we are working collaboratively on how best to get that done. I can tell you that was also a core tenet with respect to President Joe Biden’s emphasis on HBCUs. He recognizes that more of us should be on the R1 status, and that takes funding and federal support as it relates to research grants and the like.
The third was more money for students from low-resource communities. As I said at the top, nobody does it better than us as it relates to taking folks from low-resource communities and putting them into the Black middle class. It will help if you look no further than the United Negro College Fund’s latest report on this issue that among higher institutions, HBCUs are the primary driver for infusion in the Black
middle class among higher education institutions.
The report titled “HBCUs Transforming Generations: Social Mobility Outcomes for HBCU Alumni” offers an in-depth review of the “move into middle-class mobility rate” and its efficiency as a measure of social mobility for Black students attending HBCUs. It provides a breakdown of access, success, and social mobility rates of HBCUs, Ivy institutions, the nationwide average, and the averages of non-college attendees.
Dr. Allen: There are more HBCUs, as you know than the ones you often hear of. Many of those are smaller and deserve equal attention like all of us. So, we can’t just continue to think of the Howards, Delaware States, Morgan States, and North Carolina A&Ts. We have to think about the Bennetts and Claflins as well. Those sister institutions are doing yeoman’s work too but are often unattended to. Those were the
four priorities we laid out, and we hope to start our business in earnest in the new year, but that’s what we are focused on. Click here to read the full interview.