Why Investing in HBCUs Is the Smart (and Right) Thing to Do

By Kelsea Johnson

Last year was filled with organizations—from multinational corporations to small businesses—making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) commitments after growing calls for racial justice focused not just on our systems of government, but our socioeconomic systems as well.

In a moment of introspection, IYF was among the organizations that realized it had some work to do to create a more equitable office environment. After surveying staff, IYF’s DEI Council developed the #4toSoar platform—four areas of focus where IYF is making intentional efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion internally. One key aspect of #4toSoar is diversifying IYF’s talent pipeline at all levels, from interns to full-time staff, in part by recruiting talent from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to higher education, HBCUs are a collection of over 100 nationally celebrated institutions that are recognized by the Department of Education. As the Department of Labor puts it, “HBCUs offer thorough education, rich history, and help promote a culture of diversity.”

IYF’s commitment to building relationships with and hiring graduates from HBCUs is a timely and critical step in reshaping workplaces for the better. Chanel L. Fort, Director of Academic Innovation at Stillman College, an HBCU in Alabama, agrees: “We want students to transition from the classroom to the boardroom, . . . and this requires businesses being fully engaged and committed,” she says.

Stillman College is a liberal arts HBCU in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Chosen by Colleges of Distinction as one of the best colleges from 2020-2021, Stillman College’s nearly 800 students have access to rigorous curriculum, career training opportunities like IYF’s Passport to Success Explorer, and a devoted faculty and staff. While the Stillman College faculty is incredibly invested in preparing students for workplace success, their efforts can only go so far; it’s one thing for students to have the skill set, it’s another for them to be able to put it to practice.

“Students need jobs,” Fort says. “And right now, Stillman College is implementing its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) to prepare students for greater access to opportunities in the competitive career market. The QEP has a focus on intergenerational communications and 21st century skills development for an inclusive workplace, an outlook of today’s social and work group dynamics.” Fort is confident expertise isn’t the issue—it’s limited access to job opportunities, among other factors like financial means, that stifles graduates’ career trajectories.

Businesses can help bridge this gap by developing strategic partnerships with HBCUs. Here’s how:

  1. Provide career training resources like Passport to Success Explorer to help introduce students to the basics of professionalism at the early stages of their college careers. At Stillman College, students complete Passport to Success Explorer modules during their freshman orientation courses. Stillman College received access to Passport to Success Explorer through a joint effort by McDonald’s and IYF to increase equity in job readiness and life skills training programs for youth. Thanks to Passport to Success Explorer, students at Stillman College are equipped with career preparedness techniques from day one.
  2. Partner with HBCUs to offer curriculum that provides students with the skill sets unique to your company. Fort explains that by investing in students before they graduate, companies can help create a robust candidate pool of young professionals ready to thrive in the workplace.
  3. Seek out diverse talent by attending HBCU job fairs and investing in strategic relationships with HBCUs. Meaningful, sincere engagement is key to recruiting untapped HBCU talent.

“Investing in HBCUs is an investment in dismantling systemic barriers.”

Investing in HBCUs is an investment in dismantling systemic barriers. However, if the humanitarian appeal isn’t enough, consider the Wall Street Journal’s finding that companies with diverse and inclusive environments are more competitive than their peers—this means investing in HBCUs is also an investment in organizational success.

For Fort and other HBCU educators, uplifting HBCU talent is an easy choice to make especially for organizations that are committed to leaving a positive social footprint. “Why not engage with HBCUs so that the students see a brighter future? Why not engage in the under-resourced schools to uplift and provide opportunity,” Fort says.