How HBCUs are Responding to a Flood of Corporate Diversity Initiatives

It is widely known that HBCUs have received fewer resources, leaner endowments, and less interest, with the exception of recent times. However, time can make all the difference, when it comes to seeing spirited change manifest. Back in September 2020, Fortune published an article written by Barbara L. Adams. The business school dean and accounting professor at South Carolina State University wrote an article concerning the risk of companies who do not recruit from HBCUs. She suggested that they may miss out on promising employees when they overlook the potential candidate pool.

“Attending a historically Black college or university comes with challenges that students at other institutions might not face, particularly a lack of funding and name recognition. Many recruiters seem to exclusively chase pupils from large state schools or well-known private schools. What they don’t realize is that they’re missing out on promising employees,” Adams wrote.

Interest in HBCUs from the mainstream population is shifting in a new direction, while attempts to increase diversity have been direct. Quartz at Work recently reported that HBCUs are now dealing with an onslaught of interest from company recruiters in response to last year’s resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, following killings of Black Americans by police.

Quartz at Work mentioned that Spelman is among the HBCUs that have been inundated.

“Harold Bell, director of Spelman’s office of career planning and development, says his seven-person department has been flooded with emails and phone calls from hundreds of companies, each armed with a list of diversity recruitment initiatives. The increased outreach has been “stressful,” Quartz at Work reported, also noting that handling recruiters is only a portion of his office’s job.

Quartz at Work also cited North Carolina Central University as another example of an HBCU receiving a surge of interest. Catrina DosReis—the director of the career and professional development center at the college—reportedly said that she has observed increased interest from employers in sectors including IT and pharma, which she stated are looking to recruit and to provide skills training and support. The article mentioned that 60 organizations reportedly took part in a business and IT recruitment fair in September—which was double the previous year’s participation. However, the staff realized it was not capable of taking all of the inbound calls the following month, although they wanted to ensure students were being matched with the correct jobs.

“What we’ve been really looking at, though we are very excited about the interest, is that conversion to actual hiring,” DosReis said in the interview with Quartz at Work. “We’ve yet to see that.”

DosReis also mentioned that a portion of employers provided feedback. According to them,  students are not showing up for virtual events, but she noted that many of the school’s students are dealing with burnout, and that recruiting takes investment and time. DosReis also stated to Quartz at Work that it is also important for recruiters to go beyond the act of hiring, whether that’s paying for round-trip airfare for internships or providing a housing stipend, for instance, since many students come from low-income households.

Kimberly Scott, vice president of student affairs at Tuskegee University, reportedly said in the Quartz at Work interview that a different type of engagement is underway. Scott remarked that more Fortune 100 and 200 companies inquired about how they could connect with students. They also volunteered to offer opportunities and provide donations.

Scott reportedly added the school “redirected the conversation” to get a broader commitment from businesses. Her office is open to trying strategies, such as connecting companies with academic departments, inviting them to become part of the school’s business advisory council, as well as providing helpful guidance on academic preparation and soft skills preparation outside of class.