Story highlights

Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference opens

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will speak at the two-day conference

President Obama signed the 2011 HBCU Week proclamation on Friday

Washington CNN —  

College presidents from predominantly black institutions across the country gathered in the nation’s capital Monday for a conference commemorating National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week.

The two-day conference, titled “HBCUs: Engaging the World Anew,” began 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 and most competitive and diverse workforce 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 workforce, technology and innovation, and working with small businesses and developing partnerships.

Wilson was followed by a senior adviser to the president, Valerie Jarrett, who discussed the importance of the historically black institutions to the president’s education agenda.

The 2011 HBCU Week Conference will continue Tuesday when Education Secretary Arne 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.

South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn will also speak on the final day of the conference, 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, and serve more than 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the White House said.