Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Officials of Black Colleges and Universities

September 15, 1981

Thank you all very much. And, Reverend, thank you very much for your suggestion earlier which we should have thought of. I don't know of a place where prayer is more appropriate than in Washington, D.C. [Laughter]

But we're gathered today because all of us want to nourish and protect an American institution that has served this Nation well. And I am, of course, referring to the traditional black colleges and universities. Hundreds of thousands of young Americans received training at these schools over the last 100 years, expanding their opportunities as individuals and laying the foundation for social progress.

It should never be forgotten that when educational opportunities were denied elsewhere, these institutions offered hope to black Americans -- hope for a better life and hope that someday they would break the bonds of prejudice and discrimination.

These educational institutions did their job well. They have produced 50 percent of the black business executives, 75 percent of the black military officers, 80 percent of the black judges, and 85 percent of black physicians in this country.

The Black colleges and universities in America have offered black citizens a variety of opportunities to develop their skills and talents, and it's through such diversity that freedom flourishes. And it is through education, the education they offer, that individuals can make themselves into the type of people they choose to be and not what some central planner says they should be.

In pursuit of equal opportunity for black Americans, economics becomes as important as education. For a long period of our history, black people were prevented the chance of bettering themselves not only because they were denied the opportunity to learn, but because job opportunities were limited as well. It will do no good to educate young people if there are no jobs for them once they get out of school. And you, more than any of our citizens, know how important a vibrant economy is to the progress of black Americans, particularly, and all Americans as well.

America's declining economy cut black family income. From 1959 to 1969, the median family income of blacks after adjusting for inflation rose at 5 percent per year. But from 1969 to 1979, it stopped going up, and that median income actually dropped.

Now I believe that our economic program will provide more opportunity for all Americans, including black college graduates. Most black progress has occurred during times of prosperity in America, and we're working to create a new era of prosperity for everyone.

Economic dislocation hurts institutions as well as individuals. America's colleges and universities have been hard-pressed to maintain standards in the face of inflation that increases the cost of everything from books to typewriters. It doesn't help very much when government regulations have multiplied to the point that a president of a modest-sized college or small university told me one day that just complying with government regulation paperwork had increased his administrative overhead in that department from $50,000 a year to $650,000 a year. That will buy a lot of courses and a lot of teaching and training -- that kind of money.

With this in mind, with a serious commitment to protecting these unique educational institutions, we've made certain that in an era of budget cuts, black colleges and universities will actually receive a $9.6 million increase in Federal title III funds. Now, this is a jump of almost 8 percent. In our continuing review of Executive orders, we found a need to improve upon an existing order on historically black colleges, and that's why I was happy today to sign that new order that will strengthen the Federal commitment to the historic black colleges, while seeking new ways for the private sector to increase its support for these vital institutions.

[Prior to the luncheon, the President signed Executive Order 12320 in a brief ceremony in the Blue Room at the White House. The President made the following remarks to the black college and university officials who viewed the signing: I'm very happy to sign this Executive order which commits the Federal Government to more support with regard to our historic black colleges, and also it commits us to a program of encouraging more private support with those same educational institutions. So, without further ado -- because I'll be talking to you later -- [laughter] -- I'm going to put my name on the Executive order.]

Our commitment takes several forms. First, the Executive order commits us to increase black college participation in federally sponsored programs. Secondly, this order mandates governmentwide coordination to ensure that these colleges and universities are given a full opportunity to participate in federally sponsored programs. Now, we all know that the Federal Government has a troublesome history of issuing reports with no teeth in them. Well, this administration believes in setting measurable objectives and then turning loose the creative resources to meet them. To ensure that the annual Federal plan called for in this order gets results, I am directing Secretary of Education Bell to submit an annual performance report on executive agency actions to carry out their plans. This is management by objectives in action. And the report card prepared by Secretary Bell will be reviewed by the Cabinet Council on Human Resources, the Vice President, and me.

You know, I've never forgotten the President who once stood in this room and said that sometimes he had wanted to find out when he issued an Executive order where out there in the bureaucracy did it just sink into the sand like water and disappear and never be heard from again. Well, this one is going to be heard from again with an annual report card, as I say -- and they better pass.

Now, to reinforce this administration's commitment, I'm asking Vice President Bush to play a special role. He will work with the heads of Federal agencies to help ensure the fullest cooperation possible in conducting a special policy review to serve as a basis for all our future planning on black colleges and universities. He will then discuss the findings with the presidents of the historically black colleges.

And finally, this Executive order breaks new ground by calling on the Secretary of Education to encourage private sector initiatives in assisting these historic black institutions. The Federal Government's role can be to provide equal opportunity, but the private sector has an even greater potential and a challenging responsibility to provide direct assistance to these institutions.

We should remember that just as in the past, the future of these schools will depend more than anything else on the efforts of black Americans. What has been accomplished already is a tremendous source of pride, but now is not the time to rest on past accomplishments. The future depends on an even stronger commitment to excellence and diversity in education. And to paraphrase the motto of the United Negro College Fund: Let us recognize that America's historic black college is a ``terrible thing to waste.'' And we're not going to allow it to be wasted.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:10 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.