To the assembled presidents, chancellors, and representatives of 105 predominantly black institutions of higher learning, the message was clear: What was gained in the 1960s in terms of financial educational aid to blacks is in jeopardy during an era of fiscal conservatism.
Panel guests told a grup of more that 150 administrators from predominantly black colleges and universities here yesterday that dwindling funds for education in general, competition from the middle class for relief from the cost of education and the misunderstood role of black institutions endangers those institutions that rely heavily on federal funds.
"We are going to have to continue our efforts at increasing levels in sophistication in the national policy game," said Dr. Charles L. Hayes, president of Albany State College in Georgia.
"We have been reasonably successful in defining the issues before," he said. "But if we don't fight these issues in the way they are being defined and redefined, what you have now will be eroded."
The college representatives met yesterday at the Capital Hilton in a conference sponsored by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
During the conference, which ends Tuesday, college representatives will talk with government officials to learn how their institutions can take advantage of federal programs more effectively.
College representatives said they are concerned about proposals in Congress to grant tuition tax credits that would apply to middle-income students, diluting the amount of money available to the low-income students who make up about 80 percent of those who go to predominantly black colleges.
They said they also are disturbed by language in Title III of the Higher Education Act, which sets aside $120 million for those institutions of higher learning that are "developing." Because of the language, which the administrators said is vague, predominantly white insititutions also have been able to apply for the money, diminishing what is available for black institutions.
"We are at the basic question of why these funds were created in the first place," said Meldon Hollis, a special assistant in the Health, Education Welfare Department.
Dr. Andrew Billingsley, president of Morgan State University in Baltimore, said the conference this week was an outgrowth of a recent meeting of black college presidents with President Carter.
"The president told us that the government would be more responsive, that black institutions would be stronger by the end of his administration," Billingsley said.