WASHINGTON – The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities announced today the names of 44 students from 33 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) selected as 2020 HBCU Competitiveness Scholars – the initiative’s highest student recognition.  Congratulations to our own Eric Johnson of Rust College who is included as one of the 2020 Scholars!

“It is my privilege to congratulate the HBCU Competitiveness Scholars Class of 2020 on their outstanding academic achievement, community leadership, and entrepreneurial spirit,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “These exemplary students have excelled inside the classroom and out, and have successfully met the unprecedented challenges to learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their determination, resilience, and commitment to excellence will serve them well as they continue their academic careers and prepare for future continued success.”

Johnathan Holifield, executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, added, “I am simply thrilled to recognize the 2020 HBCU Competitiveness Scholars. These students are fine examples of the talent and boundless vitality found at America’s HBCUs. This recognition heightens expectations for scholars to continue making meaningful contributions to our nation. I am confident they will deliver.”

Scholars were chosen based on their academic achievements, campus and civic involvement, and entrepreneurial ethos or “go-getter” spirits. Comprised of undergraduate, graduate, professional students, and international students from various academic backgrounds, the 2020 scholars were selected from among several highly distinguished HBCU students. In addition, each recognized scholar was nominated and endorsed by their institution president, which itself is a prestigious acknowledgement.

“The Competitiveness Scholars Program is a great way to showcase and recognize HBCU students for their academic, civic and entrepreneurial prowess,” said President James E. Clark, South Carolina State University. “Our students are the leaders of the future, and this program is one of the many ways we celebrate our student leaders and introduce them to society. I could not be any prouder than I am now of the HBCU 2020 cohort of scholars, especially those from SC State.”

The initiative remains committed to extending their platform to provide meaningful experiences for HBCU students. Both the initiative and the U.S. Department of Education fully support this 2020 recognition of competitiveness scholars and believe it to be a critical effort to better support and motivate HBCU students during the pandemic.

“These scholars are already extraordinary,” said Elyse Jones, scholar program coordinator.  “With the drastic changes that have been made to their learning environments, they have still managed to distinguish themselves in their leadership and service, continued to foster their student voices, and furthermore embodied what it means to have a ‘competitiveness spirit.’ Their ability to stay so diligent in their studies and invested in their personal growth during a time of uncertainty speaks volumes to the character of these students.”

Selected students will serve for one academic school year representing the 2020-2021 cohort of Competitiveness Scholars. During this unique academic school year, the initiative will work closely with our federal and non-federal partners to develop a robust calendar of virtual events for our scholars that will explore and exchange ideas, and share best practices around leadership, professional development, career pathways, government resources, and much more.

Competitiveness Scholars typically assemble during the annual National HBCU Week Conference. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars will not be able to convene in Washington, D.C., for the National Recognition Program in the fall. Instead, plans are underway for an online recognition and virtual campaign to ensure the scholars receive their acknowledgement during the 2020 Virtual HBCU Week Conference. During this virtual eventthey will participate in workshops designed to strengthen their leadership and will be encouraged to seek out ongoing personal and professional development in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Ivy R. Taylor


Rust College

150 Rust Ave.

Holly Springs, Mississippi 38635

(662) 252-8000