President Barack Obama proclaims September 21 through September 27 as National Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Week. The week highlights the legacies, missions and need to support HBCUs along with the National HBCU Conference taking place in Washington, D.C.

In his proclamation, the President said HBCUs waged the war against illiteracy for newly freed slaves in their early years after the Civil War. He said the week honors the importance of HBCUs and their mission that everyone deserves a chance to succeed.

“Over more than 150 years, HBCUs have provided students with the tools to meet the challenges of a changing world,” Obama said. “These institutions are hubs of opportunity that lift up Americans and instill in their students a sense of who they are and what they can become. Their campuses are engines of economic growth and community service and proven ladders of intergenerational advancement.”

The President also said that his administration is fighting to make college more affordable with larger grants and low-interest loans. The administration is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in HBCUs, and because half of all students at these schools are the first in their family to attend college, they are supporting programs that help these first-generation scholars succeed.

The goal is for the nation to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

“During National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week, we recognize the ways these schools have made our Nation more just and we continue our work to make higher education accessible to every child in America,” Obama said.

On Monday and Tuesday, the 2014 National HBCU Conference is being held in Washington with the theme “HBCUs: Innovators For Future Success,” focusing on innovative and transformative educational approaches to ensure access to the American dream.

The two-day conference brings together HBCU presidents, senior administrators and other HBCU stakeholders to meet and interact with senior federal officials, representatives from the private sector and foundations in order to meet the evolving challenges in higher education.