Betsy DeVos doesn't seem to understand the reason historically black colleges exist

Betsy DeVos doesn't seem to understand the reason historically black colleges exist

Before Black History Month could come to a close, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had to get in some final misguided words about the country's historically black colleges and universities. 

In a statement released Monday night, DeVos called HBCUs the "real pioneers when it comes to school choice."

Devos has made supposed "school choice" her chief policy platform, arguing that parents should have the ability to choose among a "full range of options" for their children's schooling.

But what DeVos gets wrong about HBCUs is that they weren't established to give black students a wider range of educational choices — at the time, they were black students' only educational choice due to racism and segregation.

"Prior to the time of their establishment, and for many years afterwards, blacks were generally denied admission to traditionally white institutions," reads a 1991 statement on the U.S. Department of Education's website. "As a result, HBCUs became the principle means for providing postsecondary education to black Americans."

DeVos' statement followed President Donald Trump's meeting with the leaders of the country's HBCUs earlier Monday, part of an effort Vice President Mike Pence said is meant to demonstrate a commitment to giving them the "credit and attention they deserve."

"You've transformed lives through education and helped to lead our country to a more perfect union," Pence said when he met with the leaders, according to the Washington Post. "The president and I admire the contributions of historically black colleges and universities."

But many leaders are finding the Trump administration's outreach puzzling at best.

Johnny Taylor, president of the HBCU-supporting Thurgood Marshall College Fund, called the show of goodwill "bizarre" and "counterintuitive."

"People said, 'What's this about? Is it just a photo op? Is this some sort of a planned effort to convert our campuses to support the Republican Party?'" Taylor told the Post, recalling his conversations with presidents and chancellors of HBCUs.

"People were really, really suspicious about it."

And if DeVos continues to tout HBCUs as proof that her plan for "school choice" is a good one, it's likely many HBCU leaders will stay suspicious.