The recent White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Conference Week (Sep 21-22) was a gathering of institutions, organizations, agencies, and supporters committed to academic excellence and sustainable growth for African American institutions of higher learning. Government officials, college and university presidents, as well as student leaders gathered from around the world for the cause of HBCU advancement. There was an undeniable electric sense of hope in the air during the event. In spite of financial hardships, HBCU’s continue to produce first class scholars in fields such as STEM, Medicine, and Liberal Arts.
The conference is more than just an annual gathering. It represents a movement that will poise our nation to better compete in the global economy. During an intimate conversation with this year’s HBCU All-Stars, Secretary Arne Duncan encouraged us to return to our campuses and our homes with a mission to invest in our educational communities as agents of change.
Vice-President Biden continued the same sentiment in his speech as he reminded us of the unique privileges that extend far beyond the classroom for HBCU students. HBCUs, he said, help build character, produce great leaders, and instill hope.
It is truly my honor to be selected amongst my fellow scholars as a 2015-16 Student Ambassador for the White House Initiative on HBCUs. I am excited to not only represent the Interdenominational Theological Center, but also continue the legacy of promoting educational excellence, sustainable growth and social consciousness for our academic communities. Through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we are given the chance to being the change we desire to see, and using our education and experiences to better our campuses, communities, and ultimately the world.
“Over the next few years, I believe Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will in many respects become more essential, not less so, to meeting our nation’s educational and economic goals,” Secretary Arne Duncan told those gathered at the 2014 National HBCU Week Conference in Washington, D.C.
The Secretary affirmed the necessity and vitality of HBCUs, and pledged to help ensure that all 105 of these unique and historic American institutions continue to thrive.
The annual conference is a forum for HBCU presidents, administrators, students, and stakeholders to meet directly with federal and private sector representatives to discuss strategies for sustained impact in preparing new generations of leaders. This year’s conference – HBCUs: Innovators for Future Success – focused on the community’s efforts to remain at the forefront of educational advancement.
“We, as the current leaders of the black college community, like our predecessors, recognize the great tasks ahead of us. And, like our predecessors, we recognize that not only the future of African-American success, but the future of American and global success, rest on the innovation cultivated at or by black colleges,” said George Cooper, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.
Duncan used his keynote address to applaud the remarkable legacy of HBCUs and to reject the notion that HBCUs are no longer necessary in the 21st century.
“[HBCUs] still have an outsize role in preparing students to meet urgent national priorities in STEM fields, in filling teaching jobs, and in uplifting boys and men of color,” said Duncan.
He also noted the critical roles that HBCUs play in extending the reach of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and President Obama’s North Star education goal of again having the world’s highest proportion college graduates. And, he highlighted some of the HBCUs that are leading the way.
“At Hampton University I saw its cutting-edge Proton Therapy Institute for treating cancer. President Harvey’s vision there is remarkable. At Morgan State, under President Wilson’s outstanding leadership, the university formed a groundbreaking partnership with the Universities Space Research Association. Morgan State landed a $28 million contract—its biggest federal contract in history—to develop critical expertise on climate issues and atmospheric science,” Duncan said.
“It’s imperative that we start uplifting boys and men of color, as President Obama is seeking to do. And here again, HBCUs can help show the way,” he added. “I know HBCUs can pioneer innovation and international education.”
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), “must not just survive but thrive,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told those gathered at the HBCU National Conference in Washington yesterday. Duncan spoke of the enduring contributions HBCUs have made to the country and said that the tremendous historic role of HBCUs must endure as well as evolve.
Historical Role of HBCUs
Too many Americans are unfamiliar with the staggering accomplishments of HBCUs. Most of America’s civil rights giants were educated at HBCUs—Dr. King, W.E.B. DuBois, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, and Thurgood Marshall.
In our time, Jesse Jackson, Andy Young, Barbara Jordan, Congressman John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman, and Doug Wilder all earned their degrees at HBCUs.
Legendary artists and authors came out of HBCUs—Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison.
Yet what is most impressive about the HBCU record is not just your famous alumni. It is that HBCUs, working with meager resources, almost single-handedly created an African-American professional class in the face of decades of Jim Crow discrimination.
College Completion Rates
The math here is pretty simple. To reach the President’s 2020 goal, student populations with high dropout rates—especially minority students—will have to exponentially increase their college graduation rates.
This is not just about access—this is about attainment. Nationwide, only about one in four—28 percent—of young black adults have received a college degree.
But we know that African Americans have the highest proportion of adults who have some college but not a degree of any major racial group. Almost 18 percent of African Americans aged 25 years and older—nearly one in five adults—went to college but left without their degree.
That college completion shortfall is both a tragic squandering of talent and an unprecedented opportunity to do better.
So, in the years ahead, we want HBCUs to continue to be known not just for their storied alumni but for leading the way for all institutions in educating and graduating African American college students.
Innovation at HBCUs
I want to be absolutely clear: Support for innovation at HBCUs should be government-wide, and not just from the Department of Education. I’m excited that the Department of Energy awarded $9 million to nine HBCUs in South Carolina and Georgia to develop academic programs that promote minority involvement in STEM fields, especially in environmental management.
And just yesterday, the National Institutes of Health announced it has awarded planning grants to five HBCUs, totaling almost one million dollars in its new NIH BUILD initiative.
Deputy Secretary Tony Miller took part in a town hall on college affordability at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis on day six of our back-to-school tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.
Columbia: Rural educators teaching with technology
Rural educators face a challenge of isolation. Miles away from their peers, collaboration and training can often be difficult. Technology is helping bridge this geographic divide, and was the focus of our first Education Drives America event on Wednesday at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.
Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton joined rural educators, both in person and via video conference, to discuss the eMints program (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies), an Investing in Innovation (i3) grantee that focuses on providing professional development that uses interactive group sessions and in-classroom coaching/mentoring to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching.
St. Louis: Improving college access and affordability
Yesterday, I wrote about the impressive student bands that have greeted the Education Drives America bus, and at Harris Stowe University in St. Louis, we discovered that student choirs are equally impressive. The Harris Stowe choral students set the tone for an important discussion on college affordability and access.
Deputy Secretary Miller joined Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of ED’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Harris Stowe students, as well as community members for the town hall discussion. (Earlier in the week, the Department of Education announced that Harris Stowe received $1.6 million grant – one of 97 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to receive nearly $228 million to strengthen their academic resources, financial management, endowments, and physical plants.)
“In the past three years,” Miller said. [The Obama Administration has] done more to help students afford college since the G.I. Bill.” Miller spoke of the Administration’s steps to helps students, including increases in Pell Grants, a commitment to keep student loan interest rates low, and the President’s plan to keep college affordable.
Deputy Secretary Tony Miller speaks with a worker at the Continental Tire facility. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.
Following St. Louis, the bus kept us moving to our third stop of the day. The floor of a tire factory isn’t your typical spot to celebrate educational success. Yet, that is exactly where the Education Drives America dropped off Deputy Secretary Miller and staff to talk about the successful partnership between Continental Tire North America (CTNA) and Rend Lake College in Mt. Vernon, Ill.
Since 2005, CTNA has partnered with Rend Lake College to develop and staff a new training center at CTNA. The facility boasts a 24-station computer lab with teacher station, a distance learn¬ing room which seats 24 students, and Rend Lake provides a coordinator to work full-time in the training center, over¬seeing the college programs.
The public-private partnership allows CTNA employees to take classes that meet the CTNA’s business needs and puts its employees on a path towards an associates degree and in some cases a bachelors degree. It is an impressive partnership that is model for communities throughout the country.
Evansville: Collaboration is key
Because two states in one day wasn’t enough for day six of ED’s back-to-school tour, our last stop of the day took us to Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville, Ind., for a discussion on labor-management collaboration.
Deputy Secretary Miller joined National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel, Superintendent of Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation David Smith, and President of the Evansville Teachers Association Keith Gambill.
Glenwood is both an NEA priority school and a recipient of an ED School Improvement Grant, and has pulled in the entire community to ensure success of its students.
Superintendent Smith spoke passionately about the need for collaboration, saying that it is necessary to “take time to invest in relationships.”
At a number of stops on the Education Drives America tour, we’ve witnessed communities coming together to help their children succeed, and Evansville is another powerful example of support and commitment.
During the town hall, you could hear the emotion in the voices of the audience as they spoke of how proud they were to be a part of the school’s success. One student asked how she could give back to her teachers because she sees that they work so hard. In response, the entire audience gave the Evansville teachers a powerful standing ovation, which left a deep impression on those of us passing through.
The Evansville stop made for a perfect ending to a great day in the Midwest. The bus moves on and will be rejoined by Secretary Duncan today for stops in West Virginia.
See what people had to say on social media during day six, stay connected to the Department of Education throughout the year by getting email updates, and watch our video summary of day six:
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, a law that set a foundation for our nation’s public university system by establishing the first set of land-grant universities. And while some of America’s greatest institutions of higher education were created by the act, it is worth reminding Americans that not one but two Morrill Acts were enactedin the last half of the 19th Century.
Kentucky State University, an HBCU, was established by the second Morrill Act in 1890. Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky Library.
Twenty-eight years after the first Morrill Act, a second Morrill Act established many of the nation’s public historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including Alabama A&M University, Kentucky State University, and North Carolina A&T State University. The states were given a choice to either admit African Americans, or create separate institutions. Eighteen HBCUs were created in response to that choice.
So this year, we indeed celebrate the first Morrill Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862. But we also recognize that it gave a head start of nearly three decades to 58 originally all-white universities and vestiges of the gap in resources continue today. This year’s celebration is a great time to look ahead. What will public higher education look like in the year 2040? That will be the year when we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Second Morrill Act of 1890. To what degree will the “Morrill gap” still exist? Will we see any measurable institutional gap closure in what for most of 150 years has been a racially dual state university system? Will South Carolina State University grow in measurable ways toward the stability and agility of Clemson University? And will Tuskegee University achieve the dream of its founder Booker T. Washington and become an international research institution like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?
Realizing the best answers to those questions will depend on the moves made by sharp HBCU trustees and presidents. It will depend on their ability to successfully pursue capital enlargement, campus enrichment, strategy development and perception enhancement locally and nationally for HBCUs. It will depend on state governments to correct funding imbalances that continue to perpetuate historical inequities. And it may also require the federal government, led by the Department of Education, to continue to advance HBCUs in the most creative and innovative ways.
So, here’s to the hard work required to ensure that in 2040, the Morrill Act gap will finally be closed and HBCUs will be celebrated as truly world-class institutions.
John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs
Secretary Duncan and Congressman Clyburn are greeted by a student at James Simons Elementary School in North Charleston
“If college is unaffordable, then it will become unattainable,” Secretary Arne Duncan tweeted while in South Carolina last Friday during a one-day, three-city visit that focused on innovative education reform and keeping college affordable for America’s families.
Duncan began the day in North Charleston, and joined Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.), students, teachers, business leaders and policymakers for a roundtable discussion on school reform, bullying and community engagement. “Education is an investment, not an expense,” Arne said at James Simon Elementary. “We have to education our way to a better economy.”
The Secretary and the Congressman also stopped at Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton where they joined former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley to speak with students and teachers about the school’s “Creating a Corridor of Innovation” program.
With the help of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from ED, Scott’s Branch is implementing a New Tech High School model that is infused with the latest technology for education, and implements a project-based learning approach that can help increase college and career readiness in high-poverty rural areas.
Duncan and Clyburn ended the day by hosting a college affordability town hall with students at Allen University in Columbia, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
Click here for more information on the Obama Administration’s plan to keep college affordable.
Ed. Note: This post is the first in a series of blog posts that highlights leaders at the Department of Education.
John Silvanus Wilson, Jr.’s heroes as a student were college presidents. As someone who places due importance on brain power, experiences in higher education continue to inform his perspective and mission as Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Born in Philadelphia and raised by a preacher and teacher – his father and mother, respectively – he would go on to get his masters in theological studies and educational administration planning and social policy at Harvard after undergraduate work at Morehouse College. At Morehouse he came to admire the former President Benjamin Elijah Mays, whom many considered a living legend for his social activism and mentorship of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reminiscing about his education, Wilson loved attending Morehouse and Harvard equally but drew distinct differences between them.
“I contrasted the two and concluded in my mind that Morehouse needs exactly what Harvard has, and Harvard needs exactly what Morehouse has,” he said. “I think that convergence has pretty much been what my career has been about, and explains a lot of the way I think in this position.”
Morehouse was deep into what he calls character capacity – the education to impart a sense of calling and mission in life. Harvard excelled in capital capacity with an established financial infrastructure.
After Harvard, Wilson served as director of foundation liaisons and assistant provost at MIT. He helped lead two major capital campaigns that raised nearly $3 billion. After 16 years in that position, he left in 2001 and moved to Washington D.C. to work at The George Washington University as an executive dean, then an associate professor in their school of education where he researched black colleges and fundraising.
Then he got the call from the Obama administration. Wilson now assists Secretary Duncan as a liaison between the executive branch and HBCUs, as well as work with 32 federal agencies that offer support through federal grants and contracts.
The White House Initiative boils down to four components: capital enlargement, strategy development, campus enrichment, and perception enhancement.
“We have enlarged the capital flow to HBCUs, federal funding is up, and private sector partnerships through our office with HBCUs are way up. We will soon be launching an arts and HBCUs initiative, and enhance teacher prep,” he said.
According to Wilson, perception is a key area.
“There are still some people who see HBCUs as symbols of the past rather than forces for the future,” he said. “We’re trying to shift those perceptions and trying to get more people to understand they are positive forces. The President and Secretary Duncan have established that they want 8 million more college graduates by 2020. We know that 2 million of those 8 million need to be African Americans. We also know that 167,000 need to come from HBCUs.”
There are currently 105 HBCUs serving approximately 300,000 students. They graduate about 35,500 students per year, but will need to graduate more than 57,000 students per year by 2020 to meet the President’s goal. HBCUs produce half of the African American K-12 teachers in the country.
“Not only are HBCUs necessary,” Wilson said, “but this nation needs them to produce a lot more students than they’ve been producing.”
Solid education is the key to living a rewarding life for yourself and for others around you, Wilson explained.
“There’s no substitute for the life of the mind. I have three kids, so I come at education not just professionally but in terms of my family.”
Natalie Torentinos is a graduate student at The George Washington University and an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach.