Some social media users said DeVos ignored the history of how black Americans were denied access to higher education. Others said the statement applauded the Jim Crow segregated education system for giving black students “more options.”
The hashtag HBCUs trended on Twitter on Monday evening and was briefly the most mentioned hashtag on the social networking platform.
“At a time when many schools barred their doors to black Americans, these colleges offered the best and often the only opportunity for a higher education,” the Department of Education notes on its website.
President Trump has said he will help HBCUs as a part of his New Deal for Black America plan.
A senior White House official said the order will reposition an existing initiative on HBCUs and allow it to work with all the executive agencies and “serve as a strategic partner to the president’s urban agenda,” with the full force of the White House behind it.
However, the official said the order should be viewed as more of a framework and “infrastructure” and not a policy rollout, which will come later.
DeVos is delivering the keynote address Tuesday at an HBCU event at the Library of Congress.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.