HBCUs Must Become National Hubs for Workforce Development Partnerships

Less than a month after joining the Guild Education Network’s institutional roster of colleges and universities opening degree programs to employers nationwide, Paul Quinn College added to its profile as the network’s first historically Black member by announcing Chipotle as its first credentialing partner.

From a release:

Employees are eligible for the program after 120 days of employment. Tuition costs are paid upfront, and cover roughly 75 different types of business and technology degrees.

“We want to provide employees with the tools to achieve their full potential and recognize that financial barriers can be one of the biggest obstacles for not furthering their education,” Marissa Andrada, chief diversity, inclusion, and people officer, said in a statement.

Entry-level and mid-management employees at franchises and chain commercial businesses across the country can earn degrees, for free or at reimbursed rates from Paul Quinn. Employers boost their retention rates and in-house training, and Paul Quinn boosts its enrollment, revenue, and portfolio as a 21st-century HBCU.

Paul Quinn is the latest institution to make its degree programs and training resources available to a big group of diverse employees from around the country. Last November, Central State University launched a partnership with the AFL-CIO to offer enrollment options for labor union members, a group comprised of more than 12 million skilled laborers and managers.

These programs complement articulation agreements that many HBCUs create with local community colleges and internship and training modules for students like Howard University’s ‘Howard West’ initiative. But the real money that changes lives and sustains institutions is within partnerships with corporate partners and finding and serving mutual interests between the historically Black and private business sectors.

The next few months will be among the most critical times for HBCUs that we’ve seen in generations. Political turbulence, public health crisis, and social unrest will leave the way we think about and support HBCUs in the balance.

In three months, definitions of college affordability and choice could change dramatically if free college becomes a serious talking point in Congress. The HBCU talking point on being the best college option at the most affordable price could disappear with the stroke of a pen, and tip the scales in favor of better resourced, better marketed predominantly white institutions where all students can attend for free.

As communities see increases in crime, as is happening in around North Carolina Central University, do concepts of criminal justice reform and police change the calculus for parents sending students to college, particularly out-of-state? Will students find the HBCU experience to be as attractive in communities growing in violent crime numbers?

If a COVID-19 vaccine is released to the public, but no one is willing to take it and social distancing restrictions are lifted, does a vaccine really exist? And how will HBCUs orchestrate their reopening and operational plans as a result, especially in the face of constricted federal and state budgets next year?

The factors demand that HBCUs get out of the traditional mold of recruiting of high school graduates and get into attracting employees with the chance to earn more money in industries and businesses where they are already working. If Black colleges can partner with manufacturers and global retailers, it can create significant savings on marketing, diversity recruitment, and retention management — all of the hard work of attracting and keeping students enrolled is on the employers paying for their workers’ credentials.

Life in the HBCU community is about to get very hard in the next few months, but focusing on easy money may be the best way to brace for the drama, both expected and unexpected.