May 21, 2013
I was in Detroit preparing to give a speech last week when the news came across my Twitter feed: “Dr. Dre and music producer Jimmy Iovine donate $70 million to USC to create new degree.” As one of the first university presidents from the hip-hop generation, I had to stop and read the story immediately.
The two music moguls and co-founders of Beats Electronics — recognizing that they needed a new type of creative talent for their growing music technology business — are funding a four-year program that blends liberal arts, graphic and product design, business and technology.
I understood their need to build a pool of skilled talent. But why at USC? Iovine’s daughter is an alum, sure. And he just gave its commencement address. Andre Young — before he was Dr. Dre — grew up in nearby Compton, where he rose to fame as part of the rap group N.W.A. The Beats headquarters are on L.A.’s Westside.
Still, what if Dre had given $35 million — his half of the USC gift and about 10% of his wealth, according to a Forbes estimate — to an institution that enrolls the very people who supported his career from the beginning? An institution where the majority of students are low-income? A place where $35 million would represent a truly transformational gift? (Los Angeles Times)
May 19, 2013
First lady Michelle Obama has some advice for some Tennessee high school graduates: Strike your own path in college and life and work to overcome inevitable failures with determination and grit.
Mrs. Obama spoke for 22 minutes to the graduates of Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School on Saturday in her only high school commencement address this year. The ceremony took place in the gymnasium of nearby Tennessee State University.
The first lady told the 170 graduates that she spent too much of her own time in college focusing on academic achievements. While her success in college and law school led to a high-profile job, she said, she ended up leaving to focus on public service.
“My message to all of you today is this: Do not waste a minute living someone else’s dream,” she said. “It takes a lot of real work to discover what brings you joy … and you won’t find what you love simply by checking boxes or padding your GPA.”
Mrs. Obama lauded the school — it’s on the site of one of the city’s first to educate African-Americans — for its graduation rate, spirit of volunteerism and healthy food programs. She noted that each graduate was going on to either higher education or the military.
She said MLK reminded her of her own high school experience in Chicago.
“My No. 1 goal was to go to a high school that would push me and challenge me,” she said. “I wanted to go somewhere that would celebrate achievement. A place where academic success wouldn’t make me a target of teasing or bullying, but instead would be a badge of honor.”
But Mrs. Obama lamented that not all students have the same opportunities.
“Unfortunately, schools like this don’t exist for every kid,” she said. “You are blessed.”
The first lady told graduates that failure may be a part of their college lives and careers, and that how they respond to any pitfalls will define them.
“That’s when you find out what you’re really made of in those hard times,” she said. “But you can only do that if you’re willing to put yourself in a position where you might fail.”
Overcoming adversity has been the hallmark of many great people, she said.
“Oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor, and now she doesn’t even need a last name,” she said of media giant Oprah Winfrey. “And then there’s this guy Barack Obama … he lost his first race for Congress, and now he gets to call himself my husband.”
Mrs. Obama later presented graduate diplomas on stage and posed for photos with graduates.
“We didn’t know we would get to hug her,” said graduate Natey Kinzounza, 18. “She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s like my mom, she’s just a very real person.” (AP)
May 19, 2013
When President Barack Obama addresses graduates at Morehouse College on Sunday, he’ll also be speaking to the broader community of historically black colleges and universities — a proud corner of higher education that has struggled more than most during the last few years of economic distress.
The so-called HBCUs educate a hugely disproportionate share of low-income students, and both students and schools have been hit hard by a double punch. First, unemployment for blacks remains nearly double that of whites, making it harder for many students to keep up with tuition. Secondly, tougher credit standards have made it harder to secure a federal PLUS loan used by about one-third of HBCU students.
Graduation rates at HBCUs, which were already facing scrutiny under a national push to improve outcomes in higher education, have fallen over the last five years, according to U.S. Education Department data analyzed by The Associated Press.
The AP found graduation rates declined at 57 of the 80 four-year HBCUs that have complete data between 2006 and 2011. While total HBCU enrollment increased about 3 percent overall, the aggregate graduation rate for HBCU students fell from 37.7 percent in 2006 to 33.7 percent in 2011, the AP found.
That means of the 47,139 students who entered HBCUs six years before, just 15,885 had completed their degree by 2011, though the figures do not include transfers or part-time students.
“Particularly after this recession, I’m looking at an African-American unemployment rate of 16 percent, that’s touching my students,” said Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, who has been critical in the past of some HBCUs. He believes recent criticism of their low graduation rates is unfair.
“They all know somebody who’s lost their job, and if it’s somebody who’s helping them pay for their schooling, we may not see them next semester,” he said.
Morehouse’s 2011 graduation rate, however, was 55 percent, among the very highest of HBCUs.
The HBCU rates compare to a national average of about 58 percent, and 39 percent for blacks at all four-year institutions. However, while the most selective colleges have much higher graduation rates, their enrollments are also heavily tilted toward high-income students. One recent study found two-thirds of students at the 193 most selective colleges came from the top 25 percent of income, and just 15 percent from the bottom half.
At HBCUs, by contrast, about two-thirds of students receive Pell Grants, which are almost always awarded to families earning less than $40,000. Such students are not only more likely to need to start college with remedial work — which makes for a longer path to graduation — but they are much more vulnerable to financial problems that could drive them from school.
Only 83 institutions nationwide have as many at 60 percent of their students receiving Pell Grants, Kimbrough said. Fifty of them are HBCUs.
“It’s simple economics,” Kimbrough said. “If you get rid of poor kids, your graduation rates can go up.”
The struggles of students have translated into trouble for HBCUs themselves. About 40 percent have seen enrollment declines, and 20 schools saw enrollment fall more than 10 percent between 2006 and 2011, according to AP’s analysis.
Financial struggles pushed Morehouse student Remy Sylvan to tap into his entrepreneurial side to finance part of his education. As the economy worsened, business suffered at his family’s restaurant in Seattle, and his parents were unable to pay as much of his tuition as before, he said.
So Sylvan, who is set to graduate with a marketing degree, began doing independent software technician and coding work to make ends meet.
“It hurt the family at first because of the economic struggle, but it helped because it actually gave me the spirit to do something myself,” Sylvan said. “You just got to find other intuitive ways to make ends meet. And I think that’s what America overall is going through right now.”
Marybeth Gasman, a leading historian of HBCUs at the University of Pennsylvania, said HBCUs typically have small endowments so they can’t offer students the aid they need during tough times.
“It’s been difficult but I do think that HBCUs tend to be fairly resilient,” she said. “They tend to be creative about how to do things they know how to do on a small budget.”
Gasman said retention rates are rising for all students, including non-traditional ones.
“You can’t hold them to the same standard to institutions that are not willing to take any of those risks,” she said. “There are lots of things to be optimistic about. If you look at individual HBCUs, there are a lot of people doing really good things.”
Obama spoke to graduates of historically black Hampton University in 2010. One of Obama’s connections to Morehouse is its current president, John Silvanus Wilson, who previously served under the president as executive director of a program designed to help HBCUs. Wilson, himself a Morehouse graduate, took the helm at the school earlier this year.
Kimbrough said funding increases in Obama’s first-term had been helpful, but the most important thing was heading off cuts to the Pell Grant program. Funding rose substantially in Obama’s first term but has been flat recently.
“We’d just like to see a little more forcefulness to make sure our students are protected,” he said. (AP)
May 19, 2013
President Barack Obama, in a soaring commencement address on work, sacrifice and opportunity, on Sunday told graduates of historically black Morehouse College to seize the power of their example as black men graduating from college and use it to improve people’s lives.
The president said his success was due to “the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had — because there but for the grace of God, go I. I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me.”
Noting the Atlanta school’s mission to cultivate, not just educate, good men, Obama said graduates should not be so eager to join the chase for wealth and material things, but instead should remember where they came from and not “take your degree and get a fancy job and nice house and nice car and never look back.”
“So yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and powerful, or if you can also find time to defend the powerless,” Obama said. “Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business, we need black businesses out there. But ask yourself what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work, or transforming a neighborhood.”
“The most successful CEOs I know didn’t start out intent on making money. Rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed,” he said.
For those headed to medical school, Obama said, “Make sure you heal folks in underserved communities who really need it, too.”
Before Obama arrived in Atlanta, thunderstorms drenched hundreds of people who gathered on the campus lawn for the outdoor ceremony, forcing many guests to wear clear plastic ponchos over what amounted to their Sunday-best clothes. Rain began falling again, accompanied by more thunder and lightning, minutes after Obama began to speak.
“I also have to say you all are going to get wet,” he said. “I would be out there with you if I could. But Secret Service gets nervous, so I’m going to have to stay here, dry. But know that I’m with you in spirit.”
Obama urged graduates to “inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves.”
Obama used the speech to once again share his personal story of growing up without a father, confessing that along the way he made unspecified bad personal choices “like too many men in our community.”
“Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down,” he said. “I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there’s no longer any room for excuses.”
Speaking in personal terms as he often does when addressing predominantly black audiences, particularly of black males, the nation’s first black president also spoke intimately of his desire to be a better father to daughters Malia and Sasha than his absent father was to him, and to be a better husband to his wife, Michelle.
He told the graduates to pay attention to their families, saying success in every other aspect of life means nothing without success at home.
“I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you,” he said. “But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I’ve tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man.
“It’s hard work that demands your constant attention, and frequent sacrifice. And Michelle will be the first to tell you that I’m not perfect,” he continued. “Even now, I’m still learning how to be the best husband and father I can be. Because success in everything else is unfulfilling if we fail at family.
“I know that when I’m on my deathbed someday, I won’t be thinking about any particular legislation I passed, or policy I promoted. I won’t be thinking about the speech I gave, or the Nobel Prize I received,” said Obama, 51. “I’ll be thinking about a walk I took with my daughters, a lazy afternoon with my wife, whether I did right by all of them.”
The speech was Obama’s second commencement address of the season, following remarks last Sunday at Ohio State University in Columbus. His third and final graduation address will come Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
About 500 students received undergraduate degrees on Sunday and became “Morehouse Men.”
After the speech, Obama joined about 100 people at a fundraiser at the office of the foundation of Arthur M. Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons. It was the first of six money events that officials say he will headline for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is recruiting candidates and strategizing to keep control of the Senate in next year’s midterm elections. Democrats will be defending more Senate seats than Republicans, including six held by long-serving Democratic senators who have decided not to seek re-election.
After briefly discussing the economy, early childhood education, energy independence, climate change and infrastructure, Obama said “the good news is we’ve got good, common-sense solutions that we can implement right now,” on those issues. “The bad news is there’s a shortage of common sense in Washington.”
He told the donors, who paid anywhere from $10,000 per couple to $32,400 per couple to attend the fundraiser, that their support is important because it will help elect more non-ideological senators like Michael Bennet, D-Colo., “who don’t come at this thinking there’s just one way of doing things.” Bennet chairs the campaign arm for Senate Democrats and introduced Obama at the event.
“That kind of approach, if we get a critical mass in the Senate, and we can potentially get a critical mass of folks like that in the House, means that the sky’s the limit,” Obama said. “Nothing can stop us.” (AP)
May 19, 2013
President Obama on Sunday told the graduating class at Morehouse College, the country’s pre-eminent historically black college, there is “no time for excuses” for this generation of African-American men and that it was time for their generation to step up professionally and in their personal lives.
Obama, the county’s first African-American president, chose a particularly poignant moment to deliver the commencement address at the Atlanta college that boasts civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., filmmaker Spike Lee and Atlanta’s first African-American mayor, Maynard Jackson, among its alumni.
Obama’s visit comes nearly 50 years after King led the March on Washington, and 150 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The president connected his own path to the White House to the work of King and other African-American leaders of that generation. But Obama also conceded that at times as a young man he wrongly blamed his own failings “as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.” (USA Today)