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Focus on Historically Black Colleges in Degree Completion

To meet President Obama's goal to have the country lead the world in having the most college graduates by 2020, administration officials say every type of higher education institution — including Historically Black Colleges and Universities — need to ramp up completion efforts.

To help achieve this, the administration is committed to increased federal funding and leveraging support of the private sector, philanthropies and alumni to support HBCUs, John Silvanus Wilson, director of the White House HBCU Initiative, told a gathering of leaders from that community in Washington this morning,

To highlight the specific benchmarks for colleges, Wilson unveiled a new feature on the U.S. Department of Education website that went live today. From a U.S. map featuring every HBCU here, users can click on an individual campus to link to its website and to see the current number of degrees produced, the total degrees needed by 2020 to meet the President's goal and how that breaks down by year.

For instance, the four HBCUs in Maryland, (Bowie State University, Coppin State College, Morgan State University, and University of Maryland-Eastern Shore) generate 2,222 undergraduate degrees annually. They need to add another 16,522 degrees by 2020, or 300 degrees each year, cumulatively to help reach the goal.

"This is going to be no easy task," said Wilson. "And our work just got harder." Recent reports from Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation show the United States ranks 16th, down from 9th in terms of the most educated population. The country has not led the international ranking since 1995. South Korea is the current leader.

Wilson congratulated some campuses for upward trends in graduation, including Spellman College, in Atlanta; Lincoln University, in Lincoln University, Pa.; Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas and Alabama A &M in Normal, Ala.

"Our HBCUs have friends in the White House like we've never had before," said Wilson. He outlined the administration's support for federal funding for HBCUs, teacher preparation programs, and fully funding the Pell Grant program to help students pay for college. Wilson urged continued investment in the federal aid program for low-income students, which serve nearly two-thirds of students at HBCUs.

The administration is pushing to help HBCUs in three other strategic areas: capital expansion, by working with federal agencies and the philanthropic community; messaging to improve perception enhancement; and campus enrichment, including efforts to address the recruitment and retention of African-American males, Today, 70 percent of students at HBCUs are women.

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, also addressed the 2011 HBCU conference and urged support for the president's proposed American Jobs Act to revitalize communities hit hardest by the recession. Jarrett noted that with 16 percent unemployment in the African-American community —and nearly 30 percent among young black youth—action is needed now to create new training programs for minorities, fund construction projects for schools, and hire teachers.

Solving the nation's problems will take everyone, including HBCUs, said Jarrett. "You serve as a role model, a beacon of hope for our country," she told the conference attendees. With shrinking endowments, rising costs and falling enrollment, HBCUs have have felt the pain of the recession acutely. "Everyone has to change the way they do business, and HBCUs have always been leaders in getting better outcomes with fewer resources," she said.

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