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Education secretary speaks at conference for HBCUs

By Antoinette Campbell, CNN
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Tue September 20, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference wraps up
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan will speak on the final day of the two-day conference
  • President Obama signed the 2011 HBCU Week proclamation on Friday

(CNN) -- A two-day conference commemorating National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week will wrap up Tuesday with a speech from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Titled "HBCUs: Engaging the World Anew," the conference was held just days after President Barack Obama signed a proclamation making official the designation for the week of September 18-24.

It's part of a White House effort to promote the president's goal of creating the best-educated, most competitive and most diverse work force in the world by 2020, the White House said in a written statement.

In February 2010, Obama signed an executive order renewing an initiative on historically black colleges and universities, establishing a presidential board to advise the White House on matters pertaining to strengthening the educational capacity of these institutions.

John Wilson, executive director of the White House initiative, opened Monday's conference, which features a variety of panel discussions, break-out sessions and speeches. They will focus on minority presence in the work force, technology and innovation, and working with small businesses and developing partnerships.

Wilson said the gathering served as a platform to discuss, analyze and eliminate some of the issues facing HBCUs.

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, who spoke on Monday, discussed the importance of the historically black institutions to the president's education agenda.

"The number of people who ask where HBCUs should exist is declining," Wilson said. The president and education secretary understand "that education is critical not just to the administration, but to the nation's future," he said.

The 2011 HBCU Week Conference will continue Tuesday when Duncan is expected to deliver remarks on the Obama administration's priorities to support the schools and commend the progress that the colleges and universities have made in preparing students for jobs of the future.

Wilson said he hopes the college presidents in attendance leave the conference with "new perspective, new plans and new strategies for partnerships and new relationships."

"We have done a good job under the Obama administration of channeling support through three main funding sources from the federal government," Wilson said.

South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn will speak at the conference Tuesday afternoon, according to the White House. He will demonstrate the government's commitment by outlining federal funding for historically black institutions.

The 2011 fiscal year budget includes money to strengthen undergraduate and graduate programs, provide financing for the repair, renovation and construction of educational facilities, and increase the Pell Grant maximum award for students in need of financial support.

The nation's 105 historically black colleges and universities are located in 20 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They serve more than 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

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