From C-Suites to Classrooms: The Value of Corporate Support to HBCUs

With only 5% of the nation’s lawyers identifying as Black, Spencer Jones is ready to make his mark as a future civil rights attorney. A senior majoring in Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University, one of the nation’s roughly 100 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Jones has benefitted from financial support from UNCF, the nation’s largest higher-education assistance provider for HBCUs and minority students.

“UNCF doesn’t just provide transactional scholarships, but they provide transformational scholarships,” Jones said, recalling this advice UNCF CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax shared with him. “UNCF helped me financially but also empowered me to do well in class, be a leader on campus, and get out to make the world a better place.”

Jones credits UNCF and Dillard with aiding him in pursuing his degree, and UNCF credits the support of corporations as one of its major investors in HBCU students’ success. While corporate support of HBCUs has dramatically increased since 2020, particularly in the wake of George Floyd’s death, more can be done by companies to meaningfully engage with HBCUs. That’s according to a new white paper by Justice Informed and sponsored by Hyatt, CDW, and Travel Weekly.

“Corporate engagement is very important to the success of our fundraising efforts,” said Therese Badon, UNCF senior vice president of Development, Southern and Special Events Divisions. “It also gives corporations the opportunity to showcase themselves and their products so the community can see that they believe, as we do, that ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in.®’”

 Evolving Corporate Engagement with HBCUs

At UNCF, development leaders say that while most of their annual giving comes from individuals, more than 70% of event-based giving at galas comes from corporations. In his 22 years working with UNCF, Fred D. Mitchell, UNCF vice president of Development of the Midwest/Mid-Atlantic Regions, has seen a wide range of corporate support—from sponsorship and scholarships to internships and fellowships—and said the most important thing for companies to realize is that HBCUs can provide a pipeline of diverse talent for hire. Corporate support now is critical to the future existence of HBCUs.

“It’s important for companies to support HBCUs to be sure they’ll be able to survive,” said Mitchell, an alumnus of HBCU Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University. “If they’re committed to diversity, particularly of African Americans, HBCUs can help them build that pipeline if they build relationships with the schools.”

According to the white paper, companies face increased pressure to diversify their staff. Justice Informed suggests corporate workspaces diversify their points of contact within HBCUs and Predominately Black Institutions (PBIs) beyond career services offices to include staff and professors “to gain a more direct line with students.” Other key recommendations from the white paper suggest that companies should:

  • Audit their internal hiring and pipeline practices to align with the various capacities of HBCUs and PBIs;
  • Create organizational accountability through a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy;
  • Have a consistent mechanism for evaluating if their relationships with HBCUs and PBIs are genuinely mutually beneficial;
  • And support Black students long before they step foot on a college campus, beginning with K–12 ed.

“Since opening our doors 65 years ago, we’ve remained committed to creating inclusive environments where colleagues and guests all feel welcome, cared for, and like they belong,” said Tyronne Stoudemire, senior vice president of DE&I, Hyatt. “Hospitality is a career with few barriers to entry and many possibilities for growth, which is why we are honored to collaborate with HBCU leaders so that students are empowered to start and thrive in the hospitality industry. Over the last decade, Hyatt has collaborated with partner HBCU schools to help educate aspiring students on future careers in hospitality and tourism, including providing hands-on, interactive, and invigorating programs to forge a clear path for HBCU students to establish long-term careers in the industry.”

The paper also recommends that HBCUs better communicate their needs for funding and partnerships as annual reports. Scores of these institutions “are not providing the information that financial and partnership decision-makers need to make informed decisions about philanthropic or other forms of support.” The paper suggests that HBCUs and PBIs must increase the transparency of their budget and strategic vision for student and infrastructural spending.

Hyatt’s Support of HBCUs

Hyatt Regency New Orleans General Manager Michael O. Smith has worked with Therese Badon, UNCF SVP of Development of the Southern Region, for the past 10 years to host the UNCF New Orleans Mayor’s Masked Ball, which annually raises more than $1 million to support scholarships for local HBCU students.

Hyatt Hotels Corp., a global hospitality company, has a longstanding commitment to supporting HBCUs. Hyatt has hosted UNCF fundraising galas in Chicago for more than 15 years, and in other cities, including Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, according to Mitchell. In The Big Easy, the UNCF New Orleans Mayor’s Masked Ball will celebrate its 10th year on March 25, where Hyatt is the presenting sponsor, and Hyatt Regency New Orleans General Manager Michael O. Smith—an HBCU grad—is event co-chair.

According to officials, the UNCF New Orleans Mayor’s Masked Ball event has generated more than $11 million over nine years in support of local HBCUs and scholarships.

“Here in New Orleans, Hyatt has their hands in so many local projects, and they continue to grow them,” said Badon. “We would not be in the position to offer as many scholarships as we have in our community without the support of Hyatt.”

As the presenting sponsor, Smith and Hyatt bring resources to the table and additional partners to UNCF, says Badon, who adds that this is a way Hyatt shows they not only believe in HBCUs, but they’re investing in them.

In addition to supporting HBCUs through UNCF, Hyatt is presenting sponsor—with American Airlines as host—of the annual BE Smart Hackathon, a tech-based competition and mentor program for dozens of students from more than 30 HBCUs. Hyatt gifted complimentary Globalist status in its loyalty program for one year to 2020–2021 Morehouse School of Medicine graduates. And last year, Stoudemire hosted a roundtable of women HBCU presidents at Hyatt’s headquarters in Chicago.

“We are always thinking of how we can advance our efforts even further,” Stoudemire shared. “Through Hyatt’s Change Starts Here commitments, we are working towards actionable DE&I efforts by 2025 across three key areas: 1) Who we employ, develop, and advance, 2) Who we support, and 3) Who we buy from and work with. Our collaboration with HBCUs is critical in our “Who we support” commitment, helping to support HBCU students with career development opportunities.”

Such support is critical to Jones, elected as “Mr. Dillard,” and selected as a 2021 White House HBCU Initiative Scholar, and a student honoree at the UNCF New Orleans Mayor’s Masked Ball this year. Because he’s received financial support, he’s planning to create a scholarship fund on campus, as he sees the “life-changing possibilities that scholarships create for HBCU students.”