UNCF and Lilly Endowment Inc. Announce $50 Million Initiative to Better Prepare Students For Jobs

Second-largest Gift in UNCF History is Aimed at Helping Address the Unemploymentand Underemployment Crisis Facing College Graduates –  Crisis is Particularly Acute for African Americans

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(WASHINGTON)– Lilly Endowment has committed $50 million for UNCF to launch the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative. Through this initiative, UNCF will award competitive grants to four-year historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly black institutions (PBIs) to help students gain the knowledge, preparation, insight and skills needed for meaningful employment in a technology-driven, global economy. 

“We have designed a program that we envision will serve as a model of best practices to solve the unemployment and underemployment crisis among recent college graduates,” said UNCF President and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax. “In today’s marketplace, students need both the knowledge and soft skills to compete in the global economy. Sadly, too many of our nation’s talented students are having difficulty finding good jobs after graduation. Our goal is to work with students, faculty, colleges, alumni, and employers to better connect the student experience with the jobs of the future.” 

Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, the problem of underemployment has become a crisis for young adults. By early 2015, the underemployment rate for recent college graduates had reached 44 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The statistics are even more alarming for African American graduates. As recently as 2013, the unemployment rate for African American college graduates between ages 22 and 27 was 12.4 percent, more than twice the rate of their white counterparts. And in 2014, the percentage of recent African American college graduates that were underemployed soared to 56 percent. 

HBCUs have a proven track record of influencing the academic success of African Americans. Although they comprise only three percent of all four-year colleges and universities in the United States, these institutions award nearly 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned by African American students nationally. Their impact with students in STEM fields is significant as well, as 25 percent of bachelor degrees in STEM fields earned by African American students in the country are awarded by HBCUs.

Through a competitive grant process, the initiative will encourage schools to strengthen career guidance and discernment and enhance the liberal arts education of students by adding ─where needed─ certain skills, experiences, and knowledge required by employers. It will expose college faculty to contemporary workplaces so they can better teach, advise, and mentor students. The initiative also will help institutions build partnerships with local and national employers and improve student career services. 

Programmatic success will be measured through accountability and evaluation metrics that will be assessed periodically throughout the program and at its conclusion to determine impact, effectiveness and replicability. 

“Lilly Endowment has funded UNCF virtually every year since its founding in 1944,” said N. Clay Robbins, the Endowment’s chairman, president and CEO.  “This grant for the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative builds on this long-standing support and furthers the Endowment’s belief that a high-quality college education fosters an enhanced quality of life for individuals and their families. The initiative will improve the educational experiences of thousands of college students and expand their ability to secure meaningful career opportunities.”

Lilly Endowment’s gift ties for the second-largest contribution that UNCF has received in its 71-year history.  During the seven-year grant period, the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative will strive for at least a 15 percent increase in the employment rates of HBCU and PBI graduates.

"The UNCF Career Pathways Initiative is not only important to HBCUs and PBIs - it is important for the entire American higher education system. We are delighted to continue our long-standing relationship with Lilly Endowment in order to provide innovative solutions for our students,” said Dr. Lomax.  “We are proud to lead the way in helping our colleges and universities transform the college experience and will develop an example for all colleges and universities to follow in order to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our students and the demands of the marketplace.”  

UNCF will announce guidelines for the program in December. Although requirements differ for HBCUs and PBIs, 87 public and private four-year institutions across the country are eligible to apply for the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative grants.  Institutions applying for the grants must demonstrate long-term commitment to work in innovative ways to improve their institutions’ post-graduate employment rates.