The following is a commentary by Michael L. Lomax,PHD, President and CEO, UNCF:
FAIRFAX, VA - President Obama's speech on education to the Urban League was both a stirring call to action and a reminder that nothing less than our national economic vitality and competitiveness are at stake. The president is focusing on the right things and headed in the right direction. His education agenda embodies the best hope for enacting the most powerful set of education reforms in more than a generation.
UNCF applauds the president's recognition that helping children of color get an education is central to his goal of reclaiming for America world leadership in college education. And we are gratified and heartened at his recognition that HBCUs are a critical part of achieving the goals he has established, and his commitment to increasing the federal investment in HBCUs. That investment will help UNCF member HBCUs double the number of graduates from its member HBCUs and bring us measurably closer to reaching the president's goal.
Perhaps the most important point the President made in his speech to the Urban League was linking his administration's college and pre-college goals. The transformative reforms embodied in the president's Race to the Top program and his proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) are absolutely essential to his goal-and our goal-of making college access and graduation A reality for many more low-income kids of color. Both have to work or neither will work.
The President's education agenda has challenged deeply entrenched but largely discredited notions about how to deliver the best education to every student in America. Their willingness to innovate has led to more reform and improvement in the past year than has taken place in the past decade.
I have joined Joel Klein and Janet Murguia as co-chairs of the Education Equality Project (www.edequality.org), a national, bipartisan advocacy organization whose sole mission is to close the racial and ethnic achievement gap in PK-12 education and ensure that every student attends high-quality public schools. We commend the President and Secretary for their courage in thinking and acting on behalf of all kids, but especially low-income and minority kids.
Is there time for debate and room for improvement? Of course. In fact, there is more common ground between supporters of the president's proposals and some of its critics than they may recognize.
But time is short and the need is urgent. We need to act decisively and quickly. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We will not soon have another chance to make the kind of fundamental changes the Obama administration's proposals promise.
UNCF-the United Negro College Fund-is the nation's largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students' education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 39 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding 18 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at over 900 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized motto, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."® Learn more at www.UNCF.org