Secretary of State Rice Calls for Investment in HBCUs

Washington, D.C.

With historically Black colleges and universities graduating a significant percentage of Black students who pursue doctoral degrees in medicine, mathematics, science and engineering, we must continue to invest resources into these institutions, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday.

“When we think about our historically Black colleges and universities, we think about our heritage … our past,” said Rice, noting that both her parents are HBCU alumni. “But I want to [focus] on the future of historically Black colleges. HBCUs are preparing a new generation of Americans to succeed in the 21st century,” she said, calling for continued investment of resources in these institutions.

Rice’s comments came during a keynote address to HBCU presidents, faculty, alumni and administrators during the 2008 National HBCU Week Conference, sponsored by the White House Initiative on HBCUs. The White House initiative exists to strengthen the capacity of these institutions to provide excellence in education.

“America’s historically Black colleges have never been stronger, they have never been better and their future has never looked brighter,” Rice said. “Admission is up. Enrollment is up, and the longstanding commitment to academic excellence remains the same.”

While not all 105 HBCUs can boast higher enrollment or admissions, some institutions like Florida A&M University and Spelman College have experienced a substantial influx in the numbers of students applying to their institutions. Though some historically Black institutions are thriving, raising more than $250 million towards their endowment, others are fighting to keep the doors of their institutions open.

HBCUs have come under siege recently. Even after a century of educating generations of Black families, pundits still question the relevance of institutions, many of which struggle to maintain infrastructure, lag behind in providing state-of-the-art technology and grapple with accreditation scares. Collectively, they graduate roughly 60 percent of their students.

But to those who continue to question the purpose of historically Black institutions, Dr. Leonard Haynes III, executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, says they should check the data. “If Black colleges didn’t exist, we would have to create them. They are meeting an unmet need. It’s just that simple,” he says.

HBCUs represent just 3 percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, yet they graduate nearly one-quarter of African-Americans who earn undergraduate degrees and the overall average graduation rate at HBCUs is higher than the average graduation rate for African-Americans at majority institutions, according to data provided by the United Negro College Fund.

“Approximately half of all African-American women who eventually hold doctoral degrees in the sciences either attended Spelman College or Bennett College. Xavier University of Louisiana places more African-Americans in medical school than any institution in the country. And between them, Morehouse School of Medicine, Howard University and Meharry Medical College educate more of America’s Black doctors and health professionals,” said Rice, a former associate political science professor and provost of Stanford University.

Conference attendees like Dr. Henry Tisdale, president of Claflin University in South Carolina, were heartened by the recent reauthorization by Congress of the Higher Education Act, which authorized a $9,000 Pell Grant increase and more aid to minority-serving colleges such as HBCUs.

Still, lawmakers must do more to address the needs of minority-serving institutions, he said. “We are educating a disproportionate number of African-American and others, especially those going into the STEM disciplines. We deserve to have support to make certain that we can continue this success story.”

The White House initiative is an extension of Executive Order 12232 signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. It established a Federal program to overcome the effects of discriminatory treatment. Each president since Carter has subsequently issued an Executive Order on HBCUs.

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