By: Kim Hunter Reed, Ph.D, Deputy Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education and Acting Executive Director, White House Initiative on HBCUs
During this season of giving thanks, I reflect on my gratitude list – a wonderful family, good health, great friends and new adventures. Also, I count the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on my list. Over generations and still today, these institutions open the doors of opportunity to so many.
I am grateful for the chance to work with our nation’s HBCUs – urban and rural, two and four year, research campuses and teaching focused institutions – that educate more than 300,000 students annually. True to their mission, they focus on building diverse leaders equipped and committed to improving our nation. Our HBCU graduates continue to make their mark across multiple fields including as innovators, educators, doctors, civil rights champions and true advocates for children.
In this year, I have witnessed HBCUs answering our nation’s call. As President Obama challenged institutions across the country to produce a million more STEM graduates, HBCU leaders joined with industry leaders at Tuskegee University to talk through recruitment, retention and work placement for STEM students – taking on the challenges and taking through the most promising solutions.
When the U.S. Department of Education issued a call for innovative education practices focused on student success among low income students, campuses like Spelman College and Delaware State University were selected through a competitive process to advance this important work. And when we sought partners to implement our Pell grant experiments in high school dual enrollment and prison education, again, HBCUs like Jackson State, Benedict College, Wiley College, Langston University, and Shorter College were among the campuses that raised their hand to serve students and measure success.
Our HBCUs have been a vital component of America’s social fabric for over 150 years. They have had a glorious past, but it is up to us to ensure that they have a glorious future.
To support that vision, the White House Initiative on HBCUs is working to build the capacity of these institutions. We are expanding access to best and promising practices to lift student success. We are working directly with campuses and federal partners to promote their research capacity to engage in competitive federal contracts and we have reached out to federal and business partners to build pathways to employment through internship opportunities for our talented HBCU students, including emerging opportunities with the technology and entertainment industries.
We are also in our third year of our HBCU All-Star program, which opens additional doors of opportunity to students who have been recognized for their academic, leadership and service commitment, giving them the ability to advocate for education and completion.
That HBCU Pride was on full display last month when campus leaders, our HBCU All-Stars and federal and business partners gathered for the National HBCU Week conference. During our time together, we explored challenging issues like race, law enforcement and education justice; discussed access, affordability and completion; talked about student mobilization through a dynamic student and celebrity panel; and planned for deeper service and international student engagement.
Talent development in this country is foundational for our democracy and transformative for our students. So in this season for giving thanks, I am grateful our HBCUs are educating, serving and answering our nation’s call as bellwethers for change developing new leaders.