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Update on ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste’

One of the most memorable slogans in higher education — “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” — is getting a new tag line with a stock market spin.

A public service advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund, now known as the UNCF, builds on the iconic drive launched in 1972 to raise money for college scholarships for African Americans.

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” the new spots say, “but a wonderful thing to invest in.”

One 30-second video, circulating in advance of a campaign kickoff event Friday the U.S. Education Department, features a student who says he grew up in the housing projects of Cleveland.

“I want to be able to impact the community,” he says. “Not just look back on where I came from, but to reach back to where I came from and pull some people up with me. My name is David, and I am your dividend.”

The UNCF has raised more than $3.6 billion since its founding in 1944, according to its Web site, helping more than 400,000 students obtain college degrees.

Much has changed since the founding of UNCF and the launch of the 1972 ad campaign, with colleges at all levels now opening their doors to African-American students as never before.

On its Web site, the UNCF notes a question sometimes posed: “At this point in our history, why does the U.S. still need an organization and programs targeted at African Americans and other minority students?”

Its answer: “African American rates of college attendance and graduation are still much lower than those of other groups. This is due to the high cost of college compared to lower African American income levels and to the fact that many African Americans are not given the education before college needed for success in college.”

The new campaign was created in partnership with the ad agency Y&R and the nonprofit Ad Council.

Vernon Jordan, a former executive director of UNCF, said Friday that the campaign aimed to help build “a strong pipeline of black American students to go to and through college.”

Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive of UNCF, said the fund was cautious about developing a new twist for what had been a wildly successful four-decade ad campaign.

But Lomax said that because the venerable slogan had “become part of the vernacular,” there was a need “to reintroduce it in a powerful way to a new generation — to reinvigorate it and put it to work.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.



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