Lilly Endowment commits $50M to UNCF initiative

The Lilly Endowment has pledged $50 million to the United Negro College Fund to launch the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative—an effort to improve employment rates and wages for African-American college graduates.

The gift from the Indianapolis-based foundation, to be given over seven years, ties for the second-largest donation made to the UNCF in its 71-year history.

Through the initiative, UNCF plans to award competitive grants to four-year historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and predominantly black institutions, or PBIs. The goal is to spark at least a 15-percent increase in the employment rates of HBCU and PBI graduates within seven years.

“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 a written statement. “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.”

UNCF said underemployment rate for all recent college graduates has reached 44 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but is 56 percent for African-American graduates. BLS statistics also show African-American college graduates between ages 22 and 27 have an unemployment rate twice as high as their white counterparts.

Historically black colleges play a major role in educating African-Americans. Although they comprise only 3 percent of all four-year U.S. universities, they award nearly 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned by African-American students nationally. In addition, 25 percent of bachelor degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields earned by African-American students are awarded by HBCUs.

UNCF officials said 87 public and private four-year institutions across the country will be eligible to apply for the grants. Institutions applying for the grants must demonstrate long-term commitment to work in innovative ways to improve their institutions’ post-graduate employment rates.

UNCF will announce guidelines for the program in December.

“Lilly Endowment has funded UNCF virtually every year since its founding in 1944,” said N. Clay Robbins, the endowment’s chairman, president and CEO, in a written statement. “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.”

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