“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.”
After the Secretary’s keynote remarks, he was joined by Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, director of the Peace Corps, and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation of Community and National Service. The four updated the audience on a joint effort to encourage public service employers to inform their employees, volunteers and recent graduates about public service opportunities and student loan repayment options and tools – including the CFPB Public Service Toolkit to help teachers and other public servants tackle student debt.
De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.