Today, we kickoff the 2018 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Week Conference in Washington DC! This year’s theme is HBCU Competitiveness: Aligning Institutional Missions with America’s Priorities.
Over the next three days, the conference will convene friends – old and new – to discuss the important work of strengthening America’s HBCUs. We expect an at-capacity-crowd of more than 1100 attendees, including 70 HBCU presidents and chancellors, 150 students and others representing 100 institutions.
Importantly, the conference is supported by 30 Federal agencies and many private sector partners that are participating in both coordinated sessions and as exhibitors. The conference objective is clear: crack open some of America’s best areas of opportunity and align HBCU actions with national priorities.
This year’s National HBCU Week is further girded by demonstrated presidential leadership. President Trump has kept his promise to make HBCUs a priority of his Administration, signing the HBCU executive order just 6 weeks into his presidency – by far, the earliest of any president. The President also appointed the Chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs and, for the first time, housed the White House Initiative on HBCUs within the Executive Office of the President, installing the Executive Director on the Domestic Policy Council. In addition, the President established the federal Interagency Working Group to advance and coordinate the work related to HBCUs, as well as ordered certain federal agencies to develop annual plans to boost the competitiveness of HBCUs – to date, 29 federal agencies have developed HBCU plans.
The Administration has recognized the extraordinary contributions that HBCUs have made, and continue to make, to the general welfare and prosperity of our country. And so, Congress significantly increased investments in 2018 for HBCU programs. For example, funding for HBCU programs authorized under Title III of the Higher Education Act increased by 14 percent to nearly $360 million and provided an additional $10 million to the HBCU Capital Financing Program, which enabled eight schools experiencing financial difficulty to redesign and restructure to better meet student and community needs and fulfill loan obligations. Congress also provided funding to relieve four HBCUs from over $300 million of hurricane relief loans.
These investments in HBCUs are not made in isolation. Rather, they are intended to catalyze private sector engagement to increase opportunities for HBCUs, better positioning these institutions to deliver ever more value to their students and the communities they principally serve.
Looking forward to 2019, there are compelling opportunities to further embed HBCUs in national priorities. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has demonstrated her support of HBCUs by removing onerous regulations; advocating for and implementing the expansion of Pell grants to benefit low-income students attending classes year-round.
The President’s emerging prosperity agenda includes Opportunity Zones, American innovation, workforce development, and urban revitalization. A fine example of a public-private sector partnership is the American Worker Initiative – a groundbreaking collaboration among the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and the White House in which 50 SHRM-member organizations pledge to employ 50 HBCU graduates per year for the next two years – resulting in an impressive 2500 new HBCU workers by 2020.
The spirit of the day is about providing more diversely situated students, especially first-generation and lower-income students, with the tools to successfully compete in a rapidly changing world; thus improving their prospects for a better quality of life. The boundless vitality of the HBCU community – evidenced during the 2018 National HBCU Week Conference – is a direct reflection of that spirit.
We are pleased that the President, his Administration, and Congress are aligned on supporting and improving the competitiveness of HBCUs to address the priorities of the nation. While we momentarily pause this week to honor HBCUs and take stock of a strong record, we know much remains to be done.
All are invited to join with us, roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of strengthening these uniquely American institutions to increase their contributions to our nation’s prosperity.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is the Chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors of the White House Initiative on
Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Jonathan M. Holifield is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.