On Thursday, roughly 100 presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities met in Atlanta to discuss President Obama’s call that the U.S. must have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
The presidents also discussed a serious threat to reach that goal, and their institutions’ survival: the potential slashing by Congress of Pell Grants, the needs-based grants that low-income students receive.
A lot of work must be done to hit the president’s target. John Wilson, executive director of White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, told the Associated Press that the U.S. will need a total of eight million more college graduates. Of that, at least 200,000 of the two million Black graduates will have to be HBCU graduates.
Wilson then addressed the financial threat presented by some members of Congress who want to cut Pell Grants. Since Obama took office, the grant program has grown from assisting six million to nine million students, and that number will reach 10 million within a year.
HBCUs get about $1 billion in Pell Grants annually, but Wilson noted that many more white students at other institutions also receive the grants.
"When you defend Pell, you're defending America,” Wilson told the Associated Press. “This is a national thing. If the others had succeeded in going back to 2008 levels, it would've been immediately devastating."
Clark Atlanta University President Carlton Brown supported the president's goal of adding millions of new college graduates, but added a note of legislative insight. He said, "We have to understand that there has to be some investment in pre-college education and a whole new standard of outcomes. It's possible, but we need the political will."
In his 2009 address to the joint session of Congress, Obama said that the main support for his 2020 plan will come from finding ways to help would-be and current students pay their tuition.
(Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)