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President Obama talks about the future of HBCUs, My Brother's Keeper at North Carolina A&T

Freddie Allen | 10/18/2016, 9 a.m.
During a recent town hall discussion at North Carolina A & T University in Greensboro, President Barack Obama said that ...
During his keynote address at the 2016 Phoenix Awards gala, President of Barack Obama said: “My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot.” (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

— During a recent town hall discussion at North Carolina A & T University in Greensboro, President Barack Obama said that historically Black colleges that are producing engineers, doctors and dentists serve as the foundation stone for building Black middle class wealth and success, and are also important to the entire nation.

President Obama answered audience questions about the future of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), his signature My Brother’s Keeper initiative and social activism at the event hosted by “The Undefeated,” an ESPN website dedicated to the exploration of sports, race and culture.

As the nation grows more diverse and educational opportunities that were once off-limits to Blacks are now more available, some have questioned the relevancy of HBCUs.

In 2011, the Obama Administration received sharp criticism after changes in the Federal Direct PLUS loan program, disproportionately affected Black students attending HBCUs, forcing many to either delay their dreams of earning a college degree or abandon them altogether. Three years later, the Department of Education issued updated guidelines that were praised by higher education advocates and included less restrictive credit requirements for the loan program.

Obama said that the challenge with the Parent PLUS program was that some of the loans offered were “particularly expensive” and left too many students deeply in debt without graduating.

“The notion was to try to improve the way in which young people were financing their educations,” said Obama. “Part of the challenge here is to make sure, not just that [students] enroll in college, but that [they] graduate from college.”

Obama said that HBCUs receive $4 billion a year from the federal government and noted that Pell grant funding to HBCUs increased by 150 percent, while he’s been in office.

The president also expressed concerns over state-level budget cuts to higher education that have had a significant impact on the financial stability of HBCUs.

“Unless state legislatures pick up some of this slack, there’s only so much the federal government is going to be able to do to fill the void through loans, because ultimately loans mean debt and it adds up and people can get into trouble,” said Obama. “If you’re really concerned about more resources for HBCUs then you better vote. If you don’t vote, you won’t have any say in the decisions that are made in state capitals or in Congress about the support that you receive.”

Obama also talked about the future of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative (MBK), a program that was launched to address the unique challenges facing young men and boys of color.

Obama said that the central principle of (MBK) is to have some adult who is taking interest in the young men, “to have somebody that is showing them here’s an alternative here’s a pathway here’s an opportunity that you can seize and you are worth something and you are important and you are a leader.”

Obama added: “It doesn’t take a lot to transform the lives of young men.”

MBK has partnered with organizations like the National Basketball Association and major corporations like Sprint have committed to make sure that one million young people have broadband Internet access to start closing that digital gap. Obama said that 250 communities and cities have launched local MBK programs.