As Prepared For Delivery:

Welcome and thanks to all of you for joining us today, whether you’re virtual or in person.

I’d like to thank this tremendous group of Presidents and Chancellors for participating in this event as the Department of Education launches a significant report on Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education.

Today we are pleased to have with us:

  • Christopher Eisgruber, President of Princeton University
  • Gene Block, Chancellor of University of California, Los Angeles
  • David Wilson, President of Morgan State University
  • Anne Kress, President of Northern Virginia Community College
  • Pat McGuire, President of Trinity Washington University
  • Javier Reyes, Chancellor of University of Massachusetts, Amherst

We appreciate your leadership in expanding access to educational opportunity, and we look forward to hearing more about your innovative work.

I’m thrilled to be with you all today as the Department of Education launches a significant report to help colleges lean in to maintain their commitment to diversity despite real headwinds.

We are meeting at a really important time: In the wake of the Supreme Court decision to upend decades of precedent that has enabled America’s colleges to build vibrant, diverse educational environments.

Given that decision, the key question for all of us is how colleges and universities can continue to build diverse student bodies.

This isn’t just a question for universities.

When so many of our leaders come from our selective institutions of higher education, this is a question of whether our democracy is truly representative.

That’s why this report is so important.

It’s a crucial roadmap of the ways in which colleges and universities can maintain their commitments to racial and socioeconomic diversity.

The Department of Education’s issuance of this report is a demonstration that the Biden-Harris Administration is not pulling back on our commitments to diversity, in higher education or in other areas.

As President Biden often says, diversity is one of America’s greatest strengths. It remains a core value of our democracy, even as some try to erode that foundational principle.

Our nation is stronger when we tap into the full range of talent in this nation.

That’s why the President proposed a new way to evaluate candidates in the immediate aftermath of the decision.

One that takes into account the adversity a student has overcome and their resilience when selecting among qualified applicants.

For example, that might mean evaluating: a student’s financial means; where the applicant grew up and went to high school; and the particular hardships that a student has faced in life, including racial discrimination.

When a student who grew up in poverty gets the same grades and test scores as a wealthy student whose path has been a lot easier, the student who faced tougher challenges should be recognized in the admissions process.

Instead, too often the opposite is true.

The “Ivy Plus” colleges actually enroll more students from the top two percent of the income distribution than the bottom 70 percent of incomes.

Let’s be clear: the promise of America rests on a fundamental notion that we are a place of upward mobility. 

That this country is not about maintaining the wealth and privilege of the precious few but rather that everyone can reach the success their talents take them to.

And integral to that dream has been that colleges are engines of upward mobility.

But too often—and it pains me to say this—they have been institutions of privilege.

The so-called “Ivy Plus” colleges are more than twice as likely to admit a student from a high-income family as compared to low- or middle-income families—even when they have comparable SAT/ACT scores.

But then, there are places like the University of California at Los Angeles (shout out to Chancellor Block!).

Now some may consider me biased because I’m a Bruin.  But the fact is UCLA is one of the best schools for upward mobility.

One study found that nearly 1 in 5 UCLA students come from the bottom 40% of the income distribution. More than 8% come from the bottom fifth of the income distribution.

That was a higher share than any other elite university.

UCLA is a testament to the fact that there is no tradeoff—zero—between diversity and academic excellence.

And that mirrors my personal experience as well. 

I attended public schools throughout my life, until law school. Growing up, my family relied on welfare to make ends meet. I was proud to attend UCLA as it was becoming majority-minority.

One of my roommates grew up in a poor neighborhood; another was the daughter of an ophthalmologist.  Many of my friends were the children of immigrants, the first to go college in their family. Because of their talents, they made it to a great university. 

We learned so much from one another. Because of our differences – not just racial, or ethnic, but also economic That’s the power of diversity.

But at too many elite colleges, rather than serving as escalators of economic mobility they have become citadels of the wealthy.

We have the opportunity to evaluate and strengthen admissions practices.

To make our colleges the true engines of economic mobility and diversity they can be.

That is why this report is so important. 

Because it lays promising practices to maintain diversity and promote economic mobility – such as targeted outreach to diverse high schools and communities, considering applicants in the context of their opportunities and adversities faced, or increasing allocation towards need-based aid so that admitted students can enroll..

And we encourage  you to consider adopting these practices in  own admissions process.

One tool has been curtailed, but our responsibility to ensure all students are afforded equal opportunity remains. 

The road may be harder, but the goal is as important as ever.

And to our nation’s youth—know that the President and Vice President have your back.

The Vice President has embarked on a nationwide college tour to talk about the most pressing issues for our nation’s young leaders, including diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Today she is at her 6th stop: Florida International University.

As the President said, “We need to remember that the promise of America is big enough for everyone to succeed.” I couldn’t agree more.

Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce my friend, Secretary Cardona, who will detail some of the steps the Department of Education is taking to ensure that all students can attain the American Dream.

Secretary Cardona, thank you for your leadership on this crucial issue.

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