06/17/2013 01:56 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

Arne Duncan Headlines Launch of New UNCF Better Futures Campaign

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at length on Friday, June 14 about the need to break down the financial barriers to college. Duncan praised the United Negro College Fund's (UNCF) history of helping students of color to finance their higher education and asserted that now is the time to "redouble our collective efforts." UNCF's Better Futures campaign is their first in six years and centers on a call to invest in the higher education of students of color for a dividend that the country will collectively receive.

UNCF President Dr. Michael Lomax said that the campaign is designed to be edgy and provocative for the purpose of drawing attention to the critical needs that gifts to the UNCF help to address. The campaign opted for the use of the word "investment" as opposed to "donation" with the students in the public service announcement calling themselves "dividends." Students who benefited from UNCF financial assistance gave testimonies of how the opportunity to pursue higher education positively impacted them and how they plan to reinvest in their communities.

The need for expanded private funding for higher education has increased in an environment dominated by education budget cuts at federal, state, and local levels nationwide. Duncan highlighted the Obama administration's efforts to foster a "college going" culture geared toward getting more students to and through college by pointing out that the President's first term saw an additional $40 billion used for Pell grants. He noted that the Department of Education would seek to create incentives for states to reinvest in higher education to help drive down the cost of attending institutions of higher learning.

The impending Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court decision will potentially have a major impact on access to post-secondary education for underrepresented minority groups. States like California that passed Proposition 209 in 1996 -- which amended the state's constitution to prohibit public universities from granting preferential treatment to any group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Among the ban's effects, there has been a decrease in underrepresented minority enrollment. Regardless of the Court's decision on the future of affirmation action in college admissions, campaigns like the UNCF's "Better Futures" will be critically important to communities of color and the nation at-large in the battle for access to higher education.