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One of the many things that Barack Obama has done since his election is sign an executive order recognizing the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  When this happened, there were quite a few people who criticized him, accusing the president of favoritism toward African Americans and Black institutions.  Some critics called the president a racist for supporting the executive order.

In reality, Democratic President Jimmy Carter initiated the executive order and Republican President Ronald Reagan expanded it. Every president, regardless of political party, has renewed the order since its creation in 1980. President Obama is the first Black president to sign the order, and, thus, to the uninformed citizen it could appear that he is giving preferential treatment to “Black” institutions.

The executive order solidifies the role of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  This initiative is led by an Executive Director and has a small staff to support its efforts.  Currently, the Executive Director is John S. Wilson.  The Initiative also has a board of directors and this entity is led by William Harvey, the president of Hampton University.

The initiative has a variety of programs and responsibilities.  For example, each September the initiative sponsors a conference pertaining to HBCUs and aims to challenge these institutions and move them forward.  Past conferences have included sessions on fundraising, accreditation, honors programs, marketing, federal grants, board leadership, and the presidency.  The conference typically attracts HBCU presidents as well as their senior staff members.  In addition, scholars, policy makers, and foundation leaders attend to keep abreast of the national issues that are relevant to HBCUs.  The conference is typically open to the general public and includes quite a few HBCU alumni.

The initiative also works with institutions to strengthen programs and overcome challenges.  Both the staff and the board of directors have significant expertise in the areas of leadership, fundraising, strategy, and curriculum and these strengths are focused on groups of HBCUs with similar challenges.

The initiative works to make connections between HBCUs and funders, including private funders and the various federal agencies.  These connections are particularly important, as tapping government funding can be cumbersome.  The initiative helps to locate funding within the federal government and provides resources for those institutions interested in applying.

Lastly, the initiative also brings national attention to HBCUs by speaking out publically when these institutions do something noteworthy or are under attack by critics.  Members of the staff and board work to educate the nation about the unique role that HBCUs play in the 21 Century, one of educating African Americans to their full potential – intellectually, socially, and culturally.

Give HOPE. Live HOPE.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman
Guest Blogger

About the Author

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, editor of “Understanding Minority-Serving Institutions,” and leading expert on leadership, fundraising and alumni relations at historically black colleges and universities. Dr. Gasman is the author of  Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund.

Read Dr. Gasman’s previous post on the HOPE Scholarship Blog: Giving Back is Essential to HBCU Success

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