A Day Among Leaders

In February 2010, President Obama signed Executive Order 13532, “Promoting Excellence, Innovation and Sustainability at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).”  One of the goals of this historic document is to increase opportunities for these institutions to participate in and benefit from Federal programs.

I travelled to Hilton Head Island, SC last Thursday to present to the peer-to-peer conference that the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) sponsors for presidents of HBCUs and predominantly Black institutions (PBIs).  I focused my discussion on the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in producing the scientists and engineers needed for an America built to last.  More importantly, I had the chance to explain how the Department of Labor is currently playing a role in making that happen. 

HBCUs continue to graduate students to lead America—whether as the State Attorney General of California, the Mayor of Atlanta, or the many members of Congress.  Equally important, HBCUs are the leading producers of baccalaureate degrees for African Americans in math, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering; and the leading producers of African American students who go on to earn doctorates in those fields.

So, it is little wonder that after the Department of Labor renewed competition for H-1B funded training grants that HBCUs would be among our most important partners.  These grants provide high-level training for jobs in occupations where skills shortages exist, reducing the dependence on foreign labor. Several HBCUs grant winners – including a partnership between Hampton University and Norfolk State University, another partnership between the Atlanta Urban League and Clark Atlanta University, Southern University and a partnership that included Howard University – are already leading the way in insuring that the H-1B training grants will provide a diverse pool of talented people to grow businesses in America.

During the conference,  I had a great opportunity to speak with President John Rudley of Texas Southern University in Houston, President Carolyn Meyers of Jackson State University in Mississippi, Interim President Cynthia Warrick of South Carolina State University and President Mickey Burnim of Bowie State University, President Wayne Watson of Chicago State University and President William Harvey of Hampton University. While many of the institution leaders applauded the efforts by executive departments since the president’s executive order, others confided concerns about the need to increase federal partnerships with HBCUs.

I am happy to report that not only did the Department of Labor increase its funding to HBCUs in FY2010, but even as the grant to Southern University winds down, new grants were won in FY2011.  And, more importantly, the success of HBCUs has been in open competition for DOL funds.

Growing shares of America’s children are children of color; in this year, they are the majority of births.  So, to build an America built to last, grants that build our capacity to train people in hi-tech areas will mean working with those that have the track record to produce large numbers of scientists and engineers of color.  The chance to talk one-on-one with the people who are leading the most effective efforts at getting those numbers up was really important.  And, the chance to show that the Department of Labor is their partner was even better.

For more information about the HBCU grants go to: http://s.dol.gov/U4

Dr. William Spriggs is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy.

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