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Biden taps DSU President Allen to head HBCU board

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Tony Allen | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE STATE UNIVERSITY

WASHINGTON – Delaware State University President Tony Allen has been appointed by President Joe Biden to chair the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The role would guide the board’s efforts to directly advise the Biden administration on legislative, regulatory and funding solutions related to HBCUs as well as policy-making efforts to eliminate barriers the colleges face. Allen and the board will also be tasked to issue an annual federal plan that includes support from the federal government and outlines recommendations to include the private sector.

Allen is a longtime friend to the president, and a former speechwriter for Biden when he served as a U.S. senator from Delaware. He also assisted in planning the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which was officially held in Milwaukee but was largely completed in Wilmington, and later oversaw the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

“I am humbled to chair the President’s Board of Advisors for Historically Black Colleges and Universities … the president has been an advocate for DSU since the early 1970s, and [Vice President Kamala Harris] is a Howard University graduate,” Allen said in a prepared statement “They know what an undervalued treasure our 100 plus HBCUs represent, and they’re taking action.”

Allen became president of DSU in 2020, after serving as provost and executive vice president since July 2017. He also has a strong, diverse background in the private and nonprofit sectors, including serving as the managing director of corporate reputation at Bank of America and co-founding the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League and Public Allies Delaware. Allen also led public education reform efforts in Delaware’s school system.

He has leveraged these relationships to take DSU to a new level in the past year, including raising $40 million in fundraising efforts and appearing on several national news outlets. Allen has overseen DSU’s acquisition of Wesley College, which settled earlier this summer, and has expanded the university’s northern Delaware campus to host a molecular diagnostic lab on Kirkwood Highway. 

Next, DSU plans to repurpose a former Capital One office on the Wilmington Riverfront for its graduate, adult and continuing education programs.

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund President and CEO Harry Williams, who was president of DSU for eight years before Allen, heralded the announcement as a new chapter for HBCUs, as Allen’s background might make it possible to continue forging partnerships to fortify these institutions

“Dr. Allen’s executive experience in both the private sector and the higher education space has imbued him with an intimate understanding of the strengths of our institutions, the areas of needed attention and investment, and a unique insight into how the federal government and corporate America alike can partner with our institutions to bridge the divides that exist,” Williams said in a prepared statement.

HBCUs graduate roughly 350,000 students per year, representing almost 20% of all Black college graduates in America. The Biden administration has reportedly made major financial commitments  to HBCUs through the American Rescue Plan and forgiving capital improvement debt up to $3.6 billion. 

Allen’s appointment to the board signals “strong leadership at the head of the board [which] will allow the administration to build on that financial commitment with continued institutional support,” according to the White House announcement.

Among Allen’s and the board’s chief goals is to build support for the passage of the Institutional Grants for New Infrastructure, Technology and Education [IGNITE] at HBCUs Act, which creates funding for construction, renovating, preserving or modernizing school facilities and more.

Noting that a majority of Black professionals with advanced degrees got their start at colleges like South Carolina State and Dillard, Allen said it’s time to invest more in students to pave the way for their future success.

“We provide the nation’s best high-quality, low-cost education, but we also face tremendous challenges. Large numbers of our students come from families with limited financial means, while our infrastructure is both insufficient and antiquated. President Biden and Vice President Harris understand this like no other administration ever, I think,” he said.

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