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WHITE: Small organizations should help finance minority scholarships

November 6, 2010

Marvin WhiteAccess to higher education is the pathway to a stronger work force in central Indiana. But only a handful of the businesses that will benefit from these workers are cultivating the minds of our future leaders.

Minority students are at a particularly high risk of missing out on the education that will be essential for them to succeed in tomorrow’s economy. The United Negro College Fund strives to ensure underserved minorities have a chance at realizing their dreams through scholarships and internship programs, but it will take a larger coalition of local business leaders to support this goal and fill the pipeline with qualified, diverse and highly educated workers.

The UNCF enables more than 60,000 students each year to attend college. It administers more than 400 scholarship and internship programs and provides operating funds for 39 member colleges. The organization supports students at approximately 900 colleges across the country, including many here in Indiana. But none of this would be possible without support from the business community.

The UNCF’s mission is particularly admirable in light of recent economic projections. The U.S. economy is expected to produce 15.6 million new jobs between 2006 and 2016, with almost half requiring some level of post-secondary education. While that job growth is encouraging given the tough economy of the past two years, the figure offers little comfort to a low- to middle-income African-American student who can’t afford college.

The facts are disturbing. Only half of all African-American students are expected to graduate from high school with a regular diploma.

As of 2005, only 25 percent of African-Americans held at least an associate’s degree, compared with 38 percent of non-Latino whites and 56 percent of Asians. And, in 2007, African-American males made up only 4 percent of undergraduate students in higher education; of those, only one out of three graduated within six years.

I applaud the efforts of corporations like USA Funds, WellPoint, Eli Lilly and United Water, which have made a difference in the lives of minorities. USA Funds provides Access to Education scholarships that target students whose families make less than $35,000 and guarantee that at least 50 percent of the scholarship awards go to ethnic-minority applicants.

The United Water Corporate Scholars program, which is administered by UNCF, provides selected candidates a 10-week paid internship at one of United Water’s facilities.

WellPoint and Eli Lilly invest time and financial resources in youth education programs, which proves they understand the value of an educated, diverse work force and a supported community.

St. Vincent Health supports programs that protect our youth and build character, so they are ready to learn. The St. Vincent Unity Development Center serves its downtown neighborhood through Kids with a Mission, an after-school program that provides a fun, safe learning atmosphere. As part of the program, youth are offered homework assistance, character education, field trips and arts classes.

They provide a Brother2Brother and Sister2Sister mentoring program that focuses on instilling morals and values for students, and they partner with 100 Black Men of Indianapolis Inc. to provide a Summer Academy to Marion County children in kindergarten through eighth grades. This is just one example of how our health system supports African-American youth.

But we can’t rely solely on the largest corporations to support these underserved groups. Smaller organizations also have a responsibility to get involved.

An easy way to invest is to donate funds to organizations like UNCF that are working to increase the number of minority students studying the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These efforts will grow Indiana’s work force greatly and will provide skilled, diverse workers in life sciences and technology—two of the fastest-growing industries in the state.

Our communities can, and should, be our greatest source for qualified workers. With support from the companies that will be seeking those very workers, we can begin to fill the pipeline with the professionals of tomorrow.

Unless more businesses step up and support our region’s most underserved students, the local work force will suffer. And without qualified workers, central Indiana can’t expect to power the industries it is counting on to remain competitive well into the 21st century.•

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White is a senior vice president and chief financial officer of St. Vincent Health in Indianapolis, and an alumnus of Wilberforce University, a UNCF member institution. Views expressed here are the writer’s.

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