HBCUs Fuel America’s Workforces with Unique Talent



Welcome to HBCU Week, when we celebrate America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their contributions to our communities, companies and society.

It has been my life’s work to unleash talent—in all its forms, from wherever it originates—and I am passionate about the unique role of minority-serving institutions in fueling our workforces with uniquely prepared graduates. Every year, over 300,000 students turn to these institutions for their education and to prepare them for their careers.

For the past two-and-a-half years, I have proudly served as Chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. Since its launch in 2018, the Board has been making thoughtful, data-driven recommendations to the Administration on how to increase the private sector’s role in investing in and strengthening HBCUs and ensuring their long-term viability and bright future. Its work is proving to be a critical nexus between higher education and employers as we face the challenge of preparing diverse students for a rapidly evolving world of work.

What makes HBCUs special? Three things stand out for me:

1. They are filling America’s skills gap. HBCUs are responsible for 32 percent of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees earned by Black graduates, and 26% of all Black bachelor’s degrees.

It may sound strange to talk about skills gaps in the current “buyers’ market” for talent, but the problem is not over—we’ve only pressed pause. When jobs and businesses begin to recover early next year, as many predict, we will soon find ourselves back in the pinch between massive retirements and our declining birth rate. At the same time, it is estimated that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been invented yet. The U.S. will need to amass diverse talent, bringing unique experiences and perspectives, to feed the innovation beast.

2. They inject billions into the American economy. The most recent data from 2017 show HBCUs accounted for almost $15 billion annually in economic impact—as much as a Fortune 200 company. Every dollar spent by an HBCU and its students generates $1.44 in initial and subsequent spending in the local and regional economy, and each school generates roughly 134,000 local jobs.

3. Perhaps most importantly for the HR profession, HBCU graduates report having more meaningful educational experiences and are more than twice as likely to feel supported by professors and faculty members compared to students at other institutions. The result is a cohort of graduates who have been immersed in learning experiences and values that translate into confidence, a high work ethic and drive to succeed.

COVID-19 has hit higher education hard, and HBCUs will feel it more than most. The Board of Advisors is committed to accelerating HBCU’s competitiveness by connecting them to federal contracting opportunities, embedding them into government R&D priorities, ensuring they are included in the STEM Education Strategic Plan required by the America COMPETES Act, and increasing the role of the private sector in strengthening HBCUs.

Tomorrow, SHRM is honoring our own HBCU graduates on staff, encouraging them—and parents and supporters—to wear their colors with pride. I hope you will take a moment to celebrate the HBCU-spawned talent in your own organizations this week.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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