Report Highlights Industry Partnerships Established by HBCU Presidents

Updated Mar 29, 2021

A new report reveals how some presidents of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are building business and industry partnerships to improve the stability of their institutions.

Dr. Janelle L. WilliamsDr. Janelle L. Williams

The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity and Justice at Rutgers University and Brightspot Strategy recently released the second of a three-part report called “Presidents and their Strategies to Build Partnerships at HBCUs.”

The report, featured in the “Year of Leadership,” series details how HBCUs are at a disadvantage in comparison to predominantly white institutions and explains how five of these college presidents have created successful partnerships with fellow HBCUs, other institutions, major industries, and community partners.

“HBCUs are sometimes required to find external support to ensure success for their students and improvement of their campus resources,” said Zachary Brown, a doctoral student and assistant director for student recruitment in the Office of Multicultural Programs for the College of Agriculture at Purdue University.

Brown, along with Dr. Janelle L. Williams,  associate dean at Widener University and  Dr. Levon Esters, a professor at Purdue University spoke with five HBCU presidents to see what partnerships they have established for their institution and students.

Drs. Roslyn Clark Artis of Benedict College, Aaron Walton of Cheyney University, Rick Gallot of Grambling State University, Michael J. Sorrell of Paul Quinn College, and Makola Abdullah of Virginia State University all participated.

The report disclosed the driving forces behind their partnership development which is based upon certain factors including focusing on the needs of their students, the local community, and career and workforce preparation.

“This report highlights the idea that forward-thinking leaders and collaborations are critical to developing innovative support that is not only beneficial to HBCUs today,” said Williams, but “also the next generation of HBCU students in the future.”

Dr. Levon EstersDr. Levon Esters

All three of the researchers are HBCU graduates.

Esters said that the motivation for writing the report is to expose, share and put in a positive light the excellent work that is happening at these storied institutions.

From relationships with large companies like Verizon, Adidas, and SodexoMAGIC with NBA hall of famer Magic Johnson, the authors summarized the presidents’ partnerships into five standard practices: prioritizing, being student-centered, being data-driven, collaboration, and innovation.

Artis said that HBCU presidents must adopt a new spirit of collaboration and engagement and sharing if “all of the HBCUs are to be strong and survive into the next century.”

Cited in the report, Abdullah added: “There are a lot of folks that recognize the value that our institution can bring to the table,” he said, and that there is no shortage of “partnership possibilities” for Virginia State.

Putting the students first has to remain a top priority, said Gallot who added that “at the end of the day, everything that we do should reflect the best interests of our students and that’s what we’ve done.”

One of the most successful partnerships with Grambling is with entertainer Beyoncé Knowles Carter. The school’s partnership with Adidas provided an opportunity for them to work with the 28-time Grammy winner to have the “World Famed Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band” and their dancers perform with her at large events including her HBCU-inspired Coachella performance in 2018. This opportunity resulted in increased marketing for the Louisiana college and tremendous exposure and experience for the student performers.

“One of the key things that they’re doing when they partner with these other institutions, when they partner with industry partners, whoever they’re partnering with is not something that is done secretly,” said Brown. “It’s not something that’s done hidden, it’s something that is publicize; something that you can see.”

The researchers note that the presidents implementing these partnerships for their institution will “help to expand our understanding of innovative funding models that could lead to the resurgence and continued success of HBCUs.”