DOVER — After a busy summer when Delaware State University finalized its acquisition of the former Wesley College, DSU President Dr. Tony Allen on Wednesday was named chairman of President Joe Biden’s advisory board on historically Black colleges and universities.
For Dr. Allen, his new role represents a kind of “renaissance,” not only for DSU but for all HBCUs in the nation.
“I’m really fortunate to have this role,” Dr. Allen said. “What I feel has been going on in the last 18 months in particular is a bit of a renaissance for us and a very specific focus on (HBCUs’) importance in the country.”
Dr. Allen said the Biden administration has placed more emphasis on HBCUs than past leaders have, noting that through the American Rescue Plan Act, the president has delivered “three times as much funding” to them.
“We are excited about what HBCUs have meant to (President Biden) personally — he started his first Senate campaign on the hallowed grounds of Delaware State,” Dr. Allen said. “The focus here is going to be significant. The same things that we think are important in the HBCU community are very consistent with President Biden.”
Dr. Allen’s appointment as chairman comes during National HBCU Week, which puts a focus on the Institutional Grants for New Infrastructure, Technology and Education at HBCUs Act (also know as the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act). The legislation has been touted as having bipartisan support from sponsors Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Reps. Alma Adams, D-N.C., and French Hill, R-Ark.
IGNITE, Dr. Allen said, would generate more equitable funding for HBCUs, which have been historically underfunded at the state level. This kind of chronic financial issue, he said, creates problems like keeping on top of deferred maintenance, as well as paying for contemporary living and learning improvements.
Dr. Allen called the act a “unique opportunity to level the playing field in a more judicious way,” specifically for infrastructure improvements — for example, constructing new research spaces or improving broadband.
“If we’re able to get (the IGNITE Act) passed, the kind of improvements we could make to our physical footprint on all our campuses, I think, is going to be monumental,” Dr. Allen said. “When you think about some of the residential spaces that need significant upgrade and/or need to be demolished and built new. ... From a technology standpoint, in the classroom, we want to make sure students and faculty have all they need to be successful and learn in a contemporary way.”
IGNITE Act funding could be used as the university begins the process of updating its DSU Downtown campus — the new name for the former Wesley College, which was fully acquired by DSU on July 1.
Dr. Allen said the area of DSU Downtown is “in pretty good shape from an infrastructure standpoint,” adding that the university completed some improvements over the summer break ahead of students’ arrival.
He said about 300 faculty, staff and students are based at the DSU Downtown campus, which also is home to about 70 classes this fall and likely more in the spring.
While the former Wesley College is now fully DSU Downtown, there are pieces honoring Wesley. Dr. Allen highlighted the Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences as one example.
Going forward, Dr. Allen said the university will focus on assessing DSU Downtown’s “physical footprint — think about what makes sense from a living and learning perspective.”
Another area of focus is the athletic facilities DSU gained from the acquisition, he said, and to determine a “path forward” next fall.
The funding IGNITE could offer comes as DSU recently received a private investment in the form of Capital One’s donation of a $4.7 million building at the Wilmington Riverfront.
While Dr. Allen said he doesn’t see disadvantages to any funding, having more monies coming in at the federal level from legislation like the IGNITE Act could help open up HBCUs to further private investments.
“I think the combination of the capital investments at the federal level and then what that will mean for how the private sector may also invest may be significant, not just for Delaware State but for HBCUs across the country,” Dr. Allen said.
He added that historically, HBCUs have had to “do more with less,” but the IGNITE Act could offer a “unique opportunity to develop a sustainable model (of funding) that is equitable.
“I’m excited about what, not just for Delaware State, but what it means for the entire HBCU community,” he said.