We had an uplifting and engaging day at Jackson State University on December 8. It was the first time Dr. John Wilson, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), participated on behalf of Secretary Arne Duncan in a Listening and Learning Tour event.
We arrived to a welcoming audience of teachers, parents, administrators, students, and community leaders of HBCUs teacher prep programs. They’d come to discuss a number of important topics: the President’s goal to produce a higher percentage of college graduates by 2020, the administration’s higher education agenda, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Race to the Top, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As cameramen and news reporters moved into position, we knew it would be a lively town-hall meeting.
In his opening remarks, Wilson painted a picture of the year 2020 — the year this nation will have reached President Obama’s goal of a college graduation rate of over a 60 percent. “We can’t reach this goal without the active participation of our HBCUs,” Wilson said.
He noted that of the 3.2 million teachers currently in America’s classrooms, more than 1/3 will retire within the next four years. He applauded Jackson State University for producing the highest percentage (around 70 percent) of teachers in the state of Mississippi. He challenged Jackson State and other colleges and universities to produce even more quality teachers, particularly math and science teachers — and African-American male teachers, who currently only account for two percent of the nation’s teacher population.
Wilson reiterated the importance of the recently announced final requirements for $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement grants. He encouraged schools to compete for those funds as well as other ED grants.
He concluded by challenging the audience to think creatively and innovatively — to move this country forward by ensuring every child who graduates from high school is ready for college or the workforce. Participants asked a number of good questions. Wilson was pleased with the dialogue and plans to continue it with other HBCUs.