Toward the beginning of her tenure as education secretary, Betsy DeVos had a turbulent relationship with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). She suggested back in 2017 that HBCUs reflected "school choice," rather than a response to racial segregation, and was criticized when she delivered her first commencement address at an HBCU. However, Politico reported that DeVos donated part of her salary to HBCUs in an effort to improve this relationship.
In 2018, DeVos made a $199,700 salary in her role as a member of President Trump's cabinet in 2018. She donated an unspecified portion of that salary to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a group of HBCUs and predominantly black institutions (PBIs). Bustle has reached out to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for comment.
In a press release issued on Wednesday, the fund's president and CEO — Harry L. Williams — thanked DeVos for "her trust, belief in and support for TMCF, the mission and our 47 member-schools."
"Mrs. DeVos has taken the time to consistently meet, listen and work with TMCF, learning more about the needs and value of our schools throughout her time at the Department of Education," Williams said. "We have had a productive and impactful working relationship with Mrs. DeVos and her entire team."
During her confirmation hearings in 2017, DeVos said that she would only take home a salary of $1, so that she could donate the rest to charity. Last year, The New York Times reported that DeVos split her donation evenly among four organizations: a faith-based organization called Kids Hope USA; the Special Olympics; Dreams Soar, a program supporting girls in aviation and STEM; and Vision to Learn, which provides free eyeglasses and eye exams to students in low-income communities. According to The Times, DeVos initially came up against ethics rules restricting her ability to donate to charity in an official capacity but was ultimately able to do so.
This year, Politico reported that DeVos once again split her charity donation, giving unspecified amounts not only to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, but also to six other initiatives. She reportedly donated to the nonprofit Travis Manion Foundation, which supports veterans; The Kennedy Center's Any Given Child initiative; The National Academy Foundation in support of STEM education; The Children's Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit school choice group; Jesse Lewis Choose Love, a social-emotional learning program; and the The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation.
DeVos and the Trump administration faced significant backlash in DeVos' early days as education secretary — in part because of her comments about HBCUs. In February 2017, DeVos praised HBCUs for being "pioneers" of the school choice movement, Time reported, despite the fact that HBCUs were founded to provide educational opportunities for black people who were barred from institutions catering to white people during the Jim Crow Era.
A few months later, DeVos was again criticized when she chose to deliver her first commencement address as education secretary at an HBCU in Florida, Bethune-Cookman University. At the time, Trump argued that DeVos had made this decision to "demonstrate [his] Administration’s dedication to these great institutions of higher learning," but students and alumni of Bethune-Cookman University protested DeVos' appearance, per Time.
DeVos has since improved her relationship with HBCUs, as Politico reported — in part by donating part of her salary to them, and also by working on a capital financing program to assist schools struggling with financial difficulties.