This week, the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Caucus holds its annual HBCU STEAM Day of Action on Capitol Hill. Each year, the tech industry is proud to join members of the HBCU Caucus, including its chair Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), and representatives from HBCUs to advocate for greater investment in arts and science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) education at HBCUs and highlight why these institutions are key to ensuring America’s STEM pipeline is strong.
The United States’ education system has long undervalued and hindered the advancement of Black students. Throughout the course of history, higher education opportunities were not accessible to Black students at existing collegiate institutions. As a result, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established in the 1800s. Essentially, Blacks were forced to create a place to learn and attain higher-level education.
Numerous Black policymakers have attended HBCUs, including America’s very own Vice President Kamala Harris, who shared that there were two meaningful aspects of her life that have shaped who she has become: a strong mother and nurturing family and attending Howard University, an HBCU located in the heart of Washington D.C. Congresswoman Adams is a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, one of many HBCUs in North Carolina.
Congresswoman Adams notes the powerful impact HBCUs have had on the U.S. economy and the STEM field: “HBCUs contribute nearly $15 billion to our annual economy and have provided pathways of opportunity to millions of Americans, many of whom are first-generation college students. Despite being historically underfunded and under-resourced, these institutions continue to produce top talent. HBCUs produce 42 percent of Black engineers, 47 percent of Black women engineers, and 40 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus.”
Further, according to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, these pivotal anchors of society have come to serve students of African descent, and/or first-generation, and/or low-income, among others. Notably, HBCUs welcome anyone regardless of race to apply and attend.
These institutions work to propel America’s competitiveness holistically. HBCUs provide job opportunities and outlays within communities in addition to education. HBCUs also produce students of immaculate talent that help to fill necessary critical jobs across the country, creating an atmosphere where students have what they need to thrive in today’s America and in the current and future workforce landscape. HBCUs equip and strategically empower Black students to take up space and embody who they desire to be through a healthy and supportive environment unique to how these schools are structured.
HBCUs are also a critical element to President Biden’s commitment to “Build Back Better,” which focuses on jobs and economic recovery efforts, including addressing the U.S. unemployment rate. The fastest growing jobs in the United States require skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. At the current rate, between 2017-2027, STEM jobs will grow 13 percent in comparison to the 9 percent growth of the majority of the workforce. Although the demand for STEM jobs is high, labor market needs are not being met. Reports indicate that by 2025 there will be over 3.5 million STEM jobs that will need to be filled. However, due to the lack of highly skilled applicants, more than 2 million of those jobs will remain open. One way to aid in economic recovery efforts would be to invest in STEM education and aim to close this domestic skills gap. Investing specifically in HBCUs would be an important avenue to close this gap while also diversifying America’s STEM pipeline.
Diversity is pivotal to the success of everything. Bringing together various perspectives from an array of backgrounds drives innovation and creates a space where success is inevitable. It is imperative to have representation especially in tech development. When it comes to artificial intelligence, having diverse representation at decision-making tables will help address the faulty systems that contribute to gender and racial discrimination. This also ties into the myriad of social injustice issues that our country is currently facing. The presence of culturally competent leaders in artificial intelligence, including facial recognition and criminal justice, is vital to building a better America. Financially supporting HBCUs will help create the infrastructure needed so that students have resources and updated learning facilities, which would also help America address shortages, especially during times of crisis.
President Biden has shared plans to invest upward of over $70 billion into HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions by making them more affordable, reducing funding disparities, building high-tech labs for innovation, and focusing on STEM education funding, among other priorities. Education plays such a foundational role in the lives of many. HBCUs play an even more significant role in this dimension.
Many, including Vice President Harris and Congresswoman Adams, have unequivocally expressed the impact attending an HBCU has had on their lives and the path they took to become such fearless leaders in the United States government. The technology industry is committed to advocating for continued funding and support for these institutions. ITI will continue to promote equitable education experiences for everyone while strategically addressing current gaps plagued by the past. HBCUs are critical to the economic well-being of America and diversifying the STEM pipeline.
As part of ITI’s role in promoting innovation, we urge Congress and the Administration to strategically magnify funding for these schools. ITI also looks forward to working with the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus to ensure these institutions continually receive adequate federal funds. Investing in HBCUs is investing in America, and fundamentally, investing in HBCUs enriches and benefits all lives.