UNCF Reimagines Online Learning to Pipeline Black Talent to the Tech Industry
Diversity, Equality, Inclusion Education Technology

UNCF Reimagines Online Learning to Pipeline Black Talent to the Tech Industry

(Image: UNCF)

UNCF and Deloitte Digital, the experience consultancy, today announced plans for a new online platform for community learning, HBCUv.

The platform is part of an ambitious strategic initiative to reimagine online education in partnership with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), according to a release provided to BLACK ENTERPRISE.

Together, UNCF and Deloitte Digital will design and build a shared online platform where students, educators, and staff are enabled to learn, develop and build community together from anywhere.

HBCUv will provide best-in-class remote education, community engagement and career pathways to students seeking an HBCU education.

“For too long there has been a major innovation and investment gap between this nation’s HBCUs and other higher education institutions,” said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive officer, UNCF.

“HBCUv not only aims to close that gap, but also lead the way in online instruction and degree granting.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and related need for social distancing created unprecedented challenges for higher education institutions of all stripes, but it had a particularly pronounced impact on HBCUs. These institutions, who educate Black students of all backgrounds, including a significant number of first-generation and low-income college students, had to navigate this while also facing the challenges of decades of underfunding and underinvestment. In response, UNCF trained over 2,500 faculty to develop courseware for online classes, but quickly realized the limits of current learning management systems (LMS).

“What we learned from the pandemic was that better training isn’t enough,” said Dr. Shawna Acker-Ball, senior director at UNCF’s Teaching and Learning Center.

“We need better tools and technology to deliver on the rich instruction and the strong culture of America’s HBCUs and extend this transformative experience for students online.”

“The inclusion of HBCU students, faculty, staff and administrators as co-designers of the platform will be an attribute of its success,” said Dr. Valora Richardson, UNCF’s director of digital solutions and innovation.

“They know what they need, and we heard them.”

UNCF discovered that while current learning management systems do a good job at bringing education online, they do it in a way that is too cumbersome for instructors and students unfamiliar with online learning. It also found that HBCU instructors were frustrated with the inability to easily track student progress and assess when they needed additional coaching. Finally, UNCF found that the tools provided no way to replicate the culture and community for which HBCUs are famous, leaving the online learning experience feeling hollow.

To address this, HBCUv will have defining characteristics to ensure the experience is authentic and impactful. These include:

– Promoting Black Excellence: HBCUv will be home to the best Black courses taught by the best Black minds in America and serve as a beacon to young Black talent globally.

– Creating Black Futures: HBCUv will provide tools and technology that help Black students discover and design their path to a brighter future, including career planning and degree program matching.

– Connecting Black Talent: HBCUv will connect students and faculty from multiple HBCUs on one online social platform to encourage networking, collaboration and tighter community bonds.

– Putting Flexibility First: HBCUv will support both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments so students can choose the learning style that best fits their lifestyle.

– Driving Results with Data: HBCUv will leverage machine learning and big data to fuel predictive analytics on student performance and provide real-time feedback to instructors on lectures, assignments and assessments.

– Activating Collective Genius: HBCUv will be a shared resource open to all HBCUs and enable institutions to share knowledge, resources and best practices in a cost-effective, tech-forward manner.

“This isn’t just about getting more classes online, it’s about providing a safe space for Black joy and expression, giving students an opportunity to find their ‘tribe’ of people, and inspiring students of all ages by showing them Black leaders who are part of the same HBCU legacy,” said Julian Thompson, director of strategy for UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building.

“HBCUv will do this by embedding the culture, community and commitment to Black excellence embodied by HBCUs into a unique online experience that will form the foundation of the future of Black education.”

UNCF has partnered with nine initial HBCUs — Benedict College, Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, Jarvis Christian College, Johnson C. Smith University, Lane College, Shaw University and Talladega College — to develop and pilot the HBCUv platform.

Beginning in 2023, more than 8,000 students enrolled at those partner institutions will have the ability to cross-register for and take credit-bearing courses online via the HBCUv platform. As the platform matures, UNCF plans to expand HBCUv to include more HBCU students and institutions.

The bold initiative is made possible by more than $10 million in funding from the Karsh Family Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, Citi Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, but UNCF stresses that there is still a need for additional funding and partnership from leading companies, foundations and other funders.

“This is just the beginning,” said Edward Smith-Lewis, vice president, strategic partnerships and institutional programs at UNCF.

“Solving for the historic inequities that HBCUs and their students and staff face will take a sustained and concerted effort from a diverse coalition of non-profit and for-profit partners.”

UNCF selected Deloitte Digital’s Ethos, a new offering dedicated to using innovation to advance equity, sustainability and social welfare goals, to design and develop the platform in collaboration with UNCF and its partner institutions. While the platform is still in development, the team leveraged a proprietary approach to product design called “equity-centered design” to engage HBCU stakeholders and center the Black experience throughout thousands of hours of early discovery and research.

“The intention behind our approach to design really matters when it comes to projects like this,” said Nathan Young, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP and head of strategy, Ethos at Deloitte Digital.

“We opened up our design process and worked alongside dozens of HBCU students, instructors and administrators to ensure HBCUv is truly a solution designed by HBCUs for HBCUs,” said Young.

That intentionality is showcased not just in the direct collaboration with HBCUs, but in the makeup of the engagement team. Deloitte Digital’s Ethos formed a team that is 90% racially and ethnically diverse, 61% Black and 28% HBCU alumni to deliver against the unique needs of the project.

“Our diversity has always been our strength,” said Betty Fleurimond, managing director, Deloitte Services LP and national leader of Deloitte’s Higher Education practice.

“The team we brought together reflects our commitment to building a strong foundation that will serve HBCU students, faculty and staff into the future.”

“We’re investing in the future of Black excellence with this project,” said Kwasi Mitchell, chief purpose officer at Deloitte LLP.

“The work this team is doing here is inspiring, impactful and core to our firm’s purpose.”


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