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Spotlight: EDA and HBCUs: Partners for Inclusion and Competitiveness

By: Johnathan M. Holifield
Executive Director, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Jonathan M. Holifield, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Historically Black College and Universities

Over the past several decades, the need to address the twin troubles of income inequality and staggering wealth disparities has gained considerable traction in the U.S. These worries are exacerbated and long-standing among those principally served by historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Since 1837, HBCUs have been educating and preparing, primarily, but far from exclusively, African American students – nearly a quarter of HBCU students are non-Black – to contribute to the American experience. Specifically, these institutions help shape good citizens, as well as fill the nation’s dual pipeline of productivity: providing diversely talented employees and creating employment opportunities.

At the end of the day, economic development creates conditions for economic growth and improved quality of life. Such conditions include nurturing new community systems or ecosystems comprised of collaborative institutions focused on advancing mutual gain for the public and the private sector. The Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (White House Initiative on HBCUs) are collaborating to explore and adopt new approaches to foster conditions for economic competitiveness for people and communities principally served by HBCUs.

Enter Inclusion and Competitiveness

EDA and the White House Initiative on HBCUs agree: America cannot reach her highest economic competitiveness goals without improved productivity of those disconnected from today’s economy – those largely served by HBCUs. Including these Americans in our nation’s best opportunities is no longer a mere talking point or sound bite. It is imperative if our nation is to retain its leadership seat at the head of the global economic table. The pursuit of inclusion and competitiveness is a comprehensive response to this seminal challenge; an interdisciplinary framework of policies, strategies, practices, and metrics blended into community systems that improve the productivity and quality of life of disconnected Americans in the innovation economy.

Building Inclusive and Competitive Innovation Ecosystems

To encourage conditions that support economic competitiveness, over the past half-century, America has invested heavily in developing the world's most advanced countrywide network of regional innovation ecosystems, supporting talent development, creativity, research, commercialization, entrepreneurship and job creation. Unfortunately, these fantastic ecosystems have not broadly connected to HBCUs and the populations and communities they principally serve. EDA and the White House Initiative on HBCUs will continue to explore development and adoption of new approaches – embedded with the magnificent contributions of HBCUs – that can help more Americans improve their connectivity to and productivity within the 21st century.

More Talent to Fuel U.S. Competitive Advantage

For most of the 20th century, those principally served by HBCUs were not empowered to contribute their full talent to the national economy. Back then, U.S. economic competitiveness was assured even without optimal productivity from large swaths of our population. This is no longer the case. Today’s economy will not allow America to sustain world leadership without greater contributions from more Americans – especially the latent and untapped abilities of those principally served by HBCUs.

In January, President Trump attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, put it best when he said, “Capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate – and therefore by human talents – as the most important factors of production. If talent is becoming the decisive factor, we can be confident in stating that capitalism is being replaced by talentism.”

In this age of “talentism,” awakening the dormant abilities of more Americans and connecting them to the economy is the most promising path to new wealth generation, greater new job-creation and improved business output.

HBCU Competitiveness

The watchword for the White House Initiative on HBCUs is competitiveness; helping our institutions, and the people and communities they primarily serve, successfully compete in markets, while raising standards of living (Adapted from the U.S. Competitiveness Project).

The national Zeitgeist, or spirit of the day, is about helping more Americans improve their prospects for a better life. In this quest, the White House Initiative on HBCUs is excited to join with EDA to work to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to emerge as primary instruments, premier tools and preferred vehicles to address this national imperative.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In the same way, the arc of U.S. competitiveness is long, but it bends toward inclusion and competitiveness.

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