Progression Place will feature the UNCF College Knowledge Center, a 5,000 square foot resource center offering students standardized test preparations, college application assistance, financial aid assistance, a clearing house for internships and extra-curricular activities, resume writing skills, interview training and career fair, and job placement assistance.
“UNCF has become one of the country’s most prominent advocates for the importance of students getting the preschool-through-high school education they need to succeed in college, and Washington is the hub of the national conversation about how to make sure they get that preparation for college,” said Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., UNCF president and CEO. “UNCF also wants to be able to provide college-focused information and services directly to DC-area students and the hundreds of thousands of students who visit DC each year. To be an effective advocate for education reform, and to help children of color prepare for college UNCF has to be in D.C.
Now in its 67th year, UNCF is the nation’s largest private provider of scholarships to low-income students of color. Its largest program, the twenty-year, $1.6 billion UNCF Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has a graduation rate of 80–90%, well above the national graduation rate for all students and comparable to the rate for students from higher-income families. UNCF also provides financial and program support that benefits the 55,000 students at its 39 member HBCUs, whose alumni include Martin Luther King Jr., U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Brown University president Ruth Simmons, and movie star Samuel L. Jackson.
Vincent C. Gray, Mayor of the District of Columbia, hailed UNCF’s move to the city as both an important contribution to the city’s commitment to educating its children and a shot in the arm for the city’s economy. “Our education reform agenda has made the District one of the country’s leaders in school reform, but we need partners like UNCF to help students prepare for and make the critical transition to college attendance and college success,” Gray said. “We also welcome the jobs that UNCF will bring to the city, and the jobs that the new building will generate all around the Shaw neighborhood.”
“We are grateful to Mayor Gray and the D.C. City Council for welcoming UNCF to D.C. and providing the incentives that make the move affordable,” Lomax said. “UNCF will invite other education reform-minded organizations to share its new headquarters, making it a center for education foundations, institutes and other reform activities,” Dr. Lomax added. Over time, we plan for the UNCF headquarters location to serve as a meeting place for advocates of minority education from across the country.”
“UNCF’s relocation to D.C. in general and to the Shaw neighborhood in particular is a real boost for the local economy,” said Manny Fitzgerald, Executive Vice President and head of CBRE’s Nonprofit Practice Group. “It will also contribute significantly to the rejuvenation of this Washington, DC neighborhood, which is steeped in African American history.”
Two key factors draw UNCF to D.C., Lomax said. The first is UNCF’s increasing role as an advocate of school and education reform and its desire to provide direct services to middle-school-age and above students. Lomax served as co-chair of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s education transition team. He is also a member of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind and the boards of directors of Teach For America and the KIPP network of public charter schools, three of which are in D.C. “UNCF’s role as the country’s largest minority education organization comes with a responsibility,” Lomax said. “We need to be the voice not only for the 60,000 students whose education we support directly, but for the millions of students of color who need a college education and deserve to be considered when national education policy is discussed and made. That voice is a lot more likely to be heard in D.C.”
The other determining factor, Lomax said, is the need of low-income students for guidance in the years before junior and senior years in high school. Many low-income students—62 percent among students at UNCF member colleges—are the first in their families to attend college and can’t draw on the experience with the college preparation, application and financial aid processes that students from higher income families take for granted.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Lomax said. “Students need a college education. The American economy needs the college-educated leaders these students will become. UNCF has played a historic role in helping students go to college and graduate. We need to go where that mission takes us, and right now that’s Progression Place in Washington, D.C.”