HBCUs see influx of funding, partnerships from companies looking to diversify workforce 

New waves of students and employers are focusing their attention on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The institutions are both receiving increased financial support after decades of underfunding and re-establishing themselves as the “original safe spaces” for Black students, Walter Kimbrough tells The New York Times. Educators like Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, an HBCU in Louisiana, say they have seen students of color gravitate toward HBCUs in search of belonging as racial hostility has increased throughout the country.

According to research from Common App, application submissions to Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) have increased 7% in the last eight years. The New York Times also reports that applications for a cross section of HBCUs increased nearly 30% from 2018 to 2021, and submissions using the Common Black College Application, a platform for students to submit one application to multiple HBCUs, are expected to reach 40,000 this year, four times the amount in 2016. “We say this is a renaissance for HBCUs, but the level of clout and capital the institutions have now is unprecedented,” says Lodriguez Murray, a senior vice president of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

Corporations partner with HBCUs

Growing racial awareness is also bringing more corporations to HBCUs. Some of the nation’s largest employers, including Google, IBM, Southwest Airlines, and the NFL, are partnering with HBCUs to recruit more employees of color, according to The Hechinger Report.

“Given that these institutions are producing some of the highest numbers in terms of Black and brown students in some professions, it’s a natural development to come to where the students are,” says David Marshall, professor and chair of the Department of Strategic Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Although HBCUs make up 3% of U.S. colleges and universities, they produce 20% of all Black college graduates, according to UNCF. HBCUs graduate more than a quarter of Black undergraduates with degrees in the physical and biological sciences, math, and agriculture, according to data from the National Science Foundation. They also educate 50% of Black lawyers, 40% of Black engineers, and 12.5% of Black CEOs, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund reports.

Related: ‘Put the money to good use’: Revisiting MacKenzie Scott’s transformative  unrestricted gifts to HBCUs >

The Hechinger Report highlights Solve, an advertising agency whose workforce was 80% white in 2020. The company was on a mission to diversify its staff, but “advertising isn’t on the radar of diverse candidates when it really counts, when they’re trying to find a career to engage in,” says Andrew Pautz, a partner in the firm and its director of business development. To strengthen the pipeline, Solve turned to Morgan State, an HBCU, to create an entry-level course for students interested in advertising.

Other major companies are forming similar partnerships. Last month, the NFL announced a joint program between the NFL Physicians Society and Professional Football Athletic Trainer Society to diversify the pipeline in sports medicine, ABC News reports. IBM is underwriting courses, programs, and technology support as part of its commitment to establish Cybersecurity Leadership Centers at six HBCUs, including North Carolina A&T State University, Southern University System, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Google’s Grow with Google HBCU Career Readiness Program is partnering with career centers at HBCUs to help diversify pipelines of Black tech workers, who represent only 4.4% of Google employees in the country, although 13.4% of the U.S. population is Black. To address a similar lack of racial and ethnic diversity among airline employees, United Airlines has partnered with Delaware State University, Elizabeth City State University, and Hampton University, while Delta has teamed up with Hampton and Southwest with Houston’s Texas Southern University.

These partnerships are particularly pivotal for HBCUs, which disproportionately enroll low-income and first-generation students from underserved communities. Data from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund indicate that more than 75% of students at HBCUs are Pell Grant recipients.

“It’s great for HBCUs to get this attention,” Lydia Logan, vice president for global education and workforce development and corporate social responsibility at IBM, tells The Hechinger Report. “For a long time I think they were overlooked, and now they’re getting the recognition they’ve always deserved.”

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