HBCU National Meeting Stresses Competitiveness by Black Schools - Higher Education
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HBCU National Meeting Stresses Competitiveness by Black Schools

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

The future of HBCUs hinges on winning contracts instead of grants, identifying and implementing ways to become more energy efficient, and making a concerted effort to retain and graduate incoming students who are increasingly ill-prepared for the rigors of college.

Such were among the key messages delivered Tuesday during the final day of HBCU Week 2010, which featured speakers from leaders of government, multinational corporations and the ranks of prominent Black scholars.

Oliver Leslie, the HBCU/MI program manager at aerospace giant The Boeing Corporation, said it is becoming increasingly essential for HBCUs to start competing for government and private industry contracts instead of just grants.

“We’re moving away from the grant world to the contract world,” Oliver said during a panel discussion titled ‘Building Private Partnerships’. “It’s a paradigm shift.”

Speaking at the same panel, Tizoc Loza, corporate program manager for HBCU/MI at Northrop Grumman Corporation, a defense contractor, said Northrop works with universities through the Small Business Technology Transfer Program, which enables universities to partner with small businesses and contractors to develop new and innovative technologies into the world of commerce.

“This is a way for universities to bring an idea from the laboratory out into the marketplace,” Loza said.

Adrienne Booth-Johnson, manager of multicultural marketing for The Coca-Cola Company, offered tips to university officials on how to get sponsorships for university events.

The most important concept to remember, she said, is the need for personal interaction.

“People give to people,” Booth-Johnson said. “You could have the greatest cause in the world,” she continued, but, without a personal connection, a company is unlikely to offer its sponsorship.

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Sponsors need to understand what makes one cause more worthy than another and how it connects back to the business and mission of the sponsor.

It also pays to get familiar with a company’s grant-making cycle. Further, she said, be loyal, which means, among other things, not having competitors sponsor the same event.

“This is very serious business,” Booth-Johnson said. “It’s not amusing to be surprised,” she said, recounting experiences where organizations obtained sponsorships from Coca-Cola and its competitors for the same event.

Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, urged HBCU leaders to do more to get more of their students involved in environmental causes that relate to African-Americans.

“These are the people we need to see more of in the environmental movement,” Jackson said. “Environmentalism has been seen as an enclave for people with time or resources to care,” Jackson said, explaining that African-Americans have generally been slower to become active in such causes.

“It took us a while, and it has not been to our benefit,” Jackson said.

Jackson announced a new EPA research grant initiative for HBCUs, although the details were not immediately available. She said, while students at the K-12 level may get exposure to environmental education, it’s important for HBCUs to make sure that environmental education and research opportunities continue at the post-secondary level.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, spoke of various energy-efficiency measures taken at her college in order to cut costs and save resources.

For instance, she said, just eliminating lunch trays from the lunch line helped save 1,000 gallons of dish-washing water a week.

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U.S. Education Deputy Secretary Anthony Miller said HBCUs need to step up their game in graduating more students in order to help the Obama administration meet its goal of turning America’s workforce into the most college-educated workforce in the world by 2020.

“That goal is the North Star for all of our educational institutions,” Miller said. “The President’s goal can only be attained if an unprecedented number of Americans enroll in and complete college.”

However, he noted, African-Americans are more likely than any other major ethnic group to have some college experience but no degree. Thirty-five percent, he said, start college but never finish.

“That graduation shortfall is a tremendous target of opportunity,” Miller said.

Miller said HBCUs award just over 36,000 undergraduate degrees a year, about 31,500 of which are baccalaureate degrees.

Since HBCUs currently award about 15 percent of all undergraduate degrees for African-American students, he said, if that rate continues in the next decade, HBCUs would need to produce an additional 135,000 undergraduate degrees during the next decade or roughly 11,250 to 12,300 degrees a year to meet the President’s goal.

“That may even be conservative,” Miller said.

Much of the work, he said, must take place in the K-12 arena. He touted various education reform initiatives, such as the $4 billion Race to the Top program, a competitive federal fund from which 12 states have won extra money for innovative educational interventions.

Such initiatives, he said, serve children in high-poverty communities.

But while acknowledging the need for more “college-ready students,” Miller said, there is also a need for more “student-ready colleges,” a term he borrowed from the Center for American Progress.

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“We talk a lot about college-ready students—but not enough about student-ready colleges,” Miller said, lamenting statistics that show 40 percent of students who enter HBCUs drop out before their second year.

“Supporting and inducting freshmen during that first semester is critical to boosting college graduation rates, especially for first-generation students,” Miller said. “And providing high-quality developmental classes is also critical.”

Haywood Strickland, President and CEO of Wiley College, conceded that it’s important for HBCUs to meet the goals outlined by Miller

“But it’s also important to make sure we get the resources to meet those goals,” Strickland said.

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