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Exclusive: Biden Administration Announces White House Initiative targeting HBCUs

White House in Washington D.C. United States national landmark.

Since taking office, the Biden-Harris administration has delivered more than $5 billion to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through COVID-19 emergency relief funding and the discharging of HBCU Capital Financing loans. In the same vein, President Biden has now announced an executive order entitled the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

“The Federal Government must promote a variety of modern solutions for HBCUs, recognizing that HBCUs are not a monolith, and that the opportunities and challenges relevant to HBCUs are as diverse as the institutions themselves and the communities they serve,” wrote Biden.

A few of the specific functions listed in the initiative include partnering with private entities, elementary and secondary education providers, and other stakeholders to build a pipeline for students that may be interested in attending HBCUs, facilitating HBCU modernization, and addressing college affordability while promoting degree attainment. 

“HBCUs produce nearly 20 percent of all Black college graduates and 25 percent of Black graduates who earn degrees in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math,” Biden noted.

The president’s budget request also includes funding for research opportunities at HBCUs, labs, IT infrastructure, and workforce development programs in STEM as well as the Department of Justice funding for Violence Against Women Act programs at HBCUs among other priorities.

“As a STEM student, it makes me very excited to see that we are receiving support; honestly it’s hard to use your degree in STEM if you aren’t at a top HBCU program,” said Howard civil engineering student Gabrielle Booker. “I hope that through these opportunities he [President Biden] has given us our education at our respective institutions will be viewed as equal.”

The president’s support of HBCUs comes as the nation celebrated its first HBCU graduate elected to the White House in November, Vice President Kamala Harris, a 1986 Howard alumna.

“The Initiative will thus benefit from strong continuity, expertise and leadership at ED, and the unprecedented involvement of senior White House officials, to ensure a well-resourced and highly visible whole of government effort. Domestic Policy Council, Office of the Vice President, Office of Public Engagement, Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy are all specifically named as part of the Interagency Working Group for the Initiative,” said a White House spokesperson. “With this Initiative and new EO [Executive Order], we are excited for the Biden-Harris administration to set a new standard for support of and engagement with our HBCU students and leaders.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Cedric Richmond, a senior advisor to the president and a Morehouse College graduate, will work alongside the executive director to supervise day to day operations of the initiative. This is the first time a president has specifically directed an assistant to the president to advise the initiative.

“We have taken significant steps to ensure that the Executive Director and the Initiative are empowered, including by requiring that EOP offices across the White House coordinate and collaborate closely with the Initiative’s Executive Director, including specifically that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy both work with the Executive Director, Secretary Cardona, and the Board Chair to ensure that the needs and voices of HBCUs, their faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the communities they principally serve are considered,” a senior White House spokesperson shared. 

The president has a board of advisors on HBCUs which is set to fulfill the mission and functions established in section 5(c) of the PARTNERS Act. The department shall provide funding and administrative support for the board to the extent permitted by law and within existing appropriations. It is written that the board shall be composed of no more than 21 members appointed by the president including the chair and vice chair. Secretary Cardona and executive director of the initiative or their designees shall serve as ex officio members.

The executive order stated, “​​The Board shall include sitting HBCU presidents as well as leaders from a variety of sectors, including education, philanthropy, business, finance, entrepreneurship, innovation, science and technology, and private foundations.”

In addition to receiving recommendations from the board of advisors on HBCUs, President Biden will meet regularly with HBCU students, leaders, and representatives to address matters related to the initiative’s mission and functions. 

“We need to focus on all of the 104 HBCUs. We can’t just focus on the ones that are popular or getting the attention,” said Ashley Christopher, the CEO of the HBCU Week Foundation. “For me it’s not about getting the students into HBCUs but lessening the financial burden that comes with student debt, we [HBCUs] can’t compete with PWI (predominantly white institutions) endowment funds.”

Biden plans to host the National HBCU Week Conference, for HBCU executive leaders, faculty, students, alumni, supporters, and other stakeholders to share information, innovative educational tools and resources, student success models, and ideas for Federal engagement.

In a separate proclamation, Biden officially declared Sept. 5 through 11 as the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities week.

“I call upon educators, public officials, professional organizations, corporations, and all Americans to observe this week with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that acknowledge the countless contributions these institutions and their alumni have made to our country,” said Biden. 

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