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Supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett discusses the importance of historically black colleges and universities and making college more affordable.

Earlier today, I delivered remarks at a conference organized by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. It was a special honor to be here, because my own family owes so much to HBCUs. My great grandfather, Robert Taylor, was an architect who worked for almost his entire career with Booker T. Washington to design many of the buildings at Tuskegee University. And my father graduated from Howard University both for undergrad and for medical school. His education there prepared him for his extraordinary career that followed.

As President Obama has said, historically black colleges and universities are, “places where generations of African Americans have gained a sense of their heritage, their history, and their place in the American story.” In these times of challenge, all of us, whether we are in government, academia, non-profits, or the private sector, have to step up and accept new responsibilities. HBCUs do this every day.

As President Obama said, when he delivered the commencement address at Hampton University, “These schools feel the pain more acutely – they do more with less, and they enroll higher proportions of low- and middle-income students.”  Today, many HBCUs are adapting and transforming themselves to meet the demands of the 21st century.

The President is determined to do whatever he can to make HBCUs’ work a little bit easier. That’s why he re-established the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and asked Dr. John Wilson to lead it. That’s why the Recovery Act invested in infrastructure and technology at HBCUs.  It’s why the healthcare reconciliation bill included $850 million for HBCUs.

And it’s why President Obama has fought tirelessly for Pell Grants. When the President took office, he increased the maximum Pell Grant award, so that more students could afford to enroll in college, get their degree, and give back to their communities and their country. As many of you, the Republican budget released earlier this year would have cut Pell Grants in half. That would have been especially, devastating to HBCUs, where students disproportionately rely on Pell grants, and it would have been devastating to thousands upon thousands of young people who would no longer be able to afford college.

In one of the most difficult budget environments any of us can remember, President Obama stood firm on this issue. Because he did, funding for Pell Grants actually increased this year.

Making sure our young people are prepared for the jobs and responsibilities of the future is a goal which we all share. HBCUs help us reach this goal, and the Obama Administration will continue to be a partner in their important work. 

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls