Dismantling the roadblocks to professional growth in America’s Black communities is perhaps one of the most important challenges facing the country. Building wealth through entrepreneurship and stable careers unlocks a host of benefits for Black individuals, from access to higher education to generational wealth transfer to increased longevity. The path is not easy due to broader systemic challenges that are generations in the making. But today, more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) continue their legacy of preparing Black students with the skills and networks they need to succeed. Even though they comprise just 3% of America’s colleges, HBCUs award an impressive 22% of the bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students in the U.S.footnote1
Given that wide reach and a long track record of serving as engines of social mobility, these schools are natural partners for private-sector efforts to bolster Black professional development in this country. For example, Bank of America is supporting HBCUs through grants, entrepreneurship programs and advisory services as part of its $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity. The goal is to empower the next generation of HBCU graduates as they enter the workforce and realize their dreams.
Education and the path to equality
To appreciate the power of HBCUs today, it’s important to understand their contributions to American society. From social activism to advancements in science, many important chapters in American life have been shaped by HBCUs. Consider the pioneering work of Marian Wright Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, whose dedication to protecting the lives of children profoundly influenced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (an HBCU alumnus) and countless others. Meanwhile, HBCU alum and mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose story was depicted in the movie Hidden Figures, helped determine where and when to launch the rocket for Apollo 11 in 1969, sending the first men to the surface of the moon.
These are just some of the many ways in which HBCUs and their alumni have influenced the trajectory of this nation. “The history of HBCUs speaks volumes about the resilience of this country and the determination of Black individuals to obtain an education,” says Ebony Thomas, racial equality and economic opportunity executive at Bank of America and a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, the nation’s largest HBCU.
Encouragingly, the impact of HBCUs continues to reverberate through America today. With more than half of their undergrads being first-generation college students, HBCUs can have a far-reaching impact.footnote2 A 2015 Gallup survey found that compared with Black alumni of other colleges and universities, HBCU students are more likely to thrive financially after graduation and are more motivated to achieve their goals.footnote3 “What we offer our students is an opportunity to change not just their career trajectory but the ability to help their families and communities as well,” says Dr. Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University.
Creating new pathways to success
To take concrete steps toward a more just and equitable society, Bank of America has established strategic partnerships with a number of HBCUs. Its HBCU Way Forward Initiative, for example, will support five HBCUs, including Central State University, Ohio; Huston-Tillotson, Texas; Claflin University, South Carolina; Savannah State University, Georgia; and Virginia Union University, Virginia. The initiative partners each participating HBCU with the educational consulting firm EAB, which will provide advisory services to help the schools set strategic priorities, establish goals for long-term financial sustainability and accelerate their progress toward those goals.
Another key priority for the bank is to help ensure that college students have greater access to employment opportunities. As a result, six HBCUs have received $1 million grants and additional technical assistance each, as part of Bank of America’s $25 million initiative to enhance job skills for Black and Hispanic/Latino students. The six are Delaware State University, Florida A&M, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University and Tennessee State University.
“At its core, the jobs initiative focuses on three pillars: creating pathways for students of color; supporting community colleges, HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions; and connecting students with employers once they graduate,” says Thomas. Eleven community colleges and four Hispanic-serving institutions are also part of the program.
Bank of America’s campus recruiting team is also highly engaged with faculty and students at HBCUs. Such efforts are driven by executives in local markets and passionate alumni working within the company. Currently, the bank reaches 64 HBCUs through its efforts to help students develop skills for career success and targeted recruitment campaigns.
Entrepreneurship is a powerful engine of economic growth. In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Association, small businesses account for 44% of U.S. GDP.footnote4 Through a $10 million, two-year grant, Bank of America has helped establish the Center for Black Entrepreneurship on the campuses of Morehouse College and Spelman College. Created in partnership with the two HBCUs and the Black Economic Alliance Foundation, the center will leverage education, mentorship and access to capital to build a formal course of study in entrepreneurship, with the goal of furthering social and economic mobility for HBCU graduates.
Enter to learn, go forth and servefootnote5
The first institution of higher education for African Americans — Cheyney University of Pennsylvania — was established in 1837. Over the past 200 years, the importance of access to higher education in the Black community has been demonstrated time and time again. Today, HBCUs across the nation are educating teachers, ministers, doctors, lawyers and other Black professionals who will help shape American life for years to come. Bank of America recognizes the importance of their mission — not only in the Black community but also for the advancement of equality in society as whole — and is proud to partner with HBCUs nationwide and support African American educational excellence and economic empowerment.
Support for HBCUs is just one of the ways Bank of America is working to address the underlying challenges facing communities of color. From job training and reskilling programs for Black and Hispanic/Latino students to support for financial institutions that serve communities of color and funding for minority entrepreneurs, the bank is dedicated to creating economic opportunity for all.