Early on in his administration, President Obama set a goal to have the United States produce the world’s most college graduates by 2020, which it hasn’t done since 1995. Such a goal cannot be achieved, however, without the active participation of African-Americans and other minorities, who will one day outnumber whites whose college completion rates have historically been significantly higher.
In remarks delivered at a White House historically Black colleges and universities conference being held in Washington this week, White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett applauded HBCUs that she says are working to ensure that more African-Americans attend and earn degrees at those institutions despite shrinking endowments and state budgets, deteriorating facilities, lower enrollments and higher costs. The administration has a particular interest in increasing the enrollment of African-American males at those institutions, where they currently comprise only 30 percent of the student population.
“HBCUs have always been a leader in finding ways to get better outcomes with fewer resources. Today, they are leading the way once again,” she said.
Jarrett hailed Obama’s efforts to fight cuts in a proposed House Republican budget that would have cut Pell grants in half, which she said would have been devastating to HBCU students who disproportionately rely on them to attend college. Because of those efforts, Jarrett added, Pell grant funding was increased. In addition, the administration’s proposed budget includes additional funding to help HBCUs address retention challenges.
John Wilson, who heads the White House HBCU initiative, unveiled a new feature on the Education Department’s website that features every HBCU and information about the number of degrees produced and the number required each year to reach Obama’s 2020 goal. The four HBCUs located in Maryland, for example, currently generate 2,222 undergraduate degrees each year, Education Week reports. To help reach Obama’s goal, they need to cumulatively add 300 per year.
“This is going to be no easy task,” Wilson told the group, adding that, “Our HBCUs have friends in the White House like we’ve never had before.”