It’s been proven that academic success in college leads to improved outcomes in the form of career opportunities, advancement, social mobility, and more.
But higher education isn’t JUST about landing the perfect job once you graduate. College oftentimes is where students “find themselves” and for Black people from all around the globe, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions where students are immersed in African American culture — unfiltered understanding of the African diaspora where the celebration of Black identity isn’t trodden into just Black History Month.
Attending an HBCU means students are immersed in a nurturing and supportive environment, and are able to engage with faculty who set higher expectations for their students’ success. HBCUs have always been engines for ingenuity, scholarly excellence, social justice, equality, and democracy.
A key principle
For 76 years, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) has had HBCU advocacy at the forefront of its mission and organizational values.
HBCUs were formed out of necessity to earn a degree of a higher education that was once prohibited by law to Black people in America. UNCF was formed out of necessity to support HBCUs. UNCF has helped pave the way to and through college via scholarships and professional development programs for students.
UNCF scholarships have allowed more than 500,000 students to earn a college degree — from HBCUs and other institutions alike. While UNCF is mostly known for scholarships, it also advocates for K-12 education reform and manages a variety of internship and fellowship programs, such as the Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program, UNCF/Koch Scholars Program, Walton K-12 Education Fellowship, and the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship Program.
Additionally, the annual UNCF HBCU Innovation Summit sends 150 students to the Silicon Valley tech community where they participate in workshops, engage with top tech executives, and network with recruiters.
Finding paths to success
Innovative solutions to improve student success come in many forms — from curricula and technological enhancements to political action to continuous faculty development.
UNCF’s Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) is an initiative designed to improve student success outcomes — ensuring graduates are prepared for a 21st-century workplace and are well equipped for a broad array of post-graduate opportunities.
For example, since working with CPI, Huston-Tillotson University, an HBCU in Austin, Texas, has increased student retention, has more students studying abroad, and has increased the number of students participating in internships annually. What does this mean? Students are matriculating at a higher rate and having a student experience that will equip them for an array of post-graduate opportunities.
In 2019, UNCF launched the award-winning campaign “Protecting Our FUTURE,” which expressed support for the FUTURE Act — legislation that gained bipartisan support, passing in both the House and Senate, and signed into law. Because of the act, HBCUs and other institutions will receive permanent funding to increase STEM graduates.
In a critical time
The year 2020, like most individuals and industries, has brought about challenges and unexpected triumphs. COVID has impacted us all — including HBCUs.
Soon after the nation enacted social distance regulations and campus closures, UNCF advocated for the government to pass the CARES Act, aiding HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions with $1 billion in response to the pandemic’s ills on higher education. These funds brought much needed emergency funding directly to students and institutions providing distance learning solutions and faculty training, among other things.
As a result of the social justice uproars and the increase in allyship from those within and outside of the African American community, UNCF has more than doubled the emergency funds scholarships disbursed to students.
Since their inception, HBCUs have built a legacy of educating and graduating low-income, Pell Grant-eligible students ,and providing a path for upward mobility and economic empowerment. UNCF has and will continue to support the HBCU community and students because “a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in.”