Oakwood University, the historically black school affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was granted $2.75 million by the United Negro College Fund’s Career Pathways Initiative to “design and implement programs to improve employment outcomes for graduates.” Oakwood, located in Huntsville, Alabama, teamed with Talladega College, also in Alabama, and Mississippi’s Tougaloo College in applying for a CPI cluster grant, which will collectively award as much as $6 million to the three institutions.
"We know that our students are the cream of the crop"
“I am pleased and excited that Oakwood University, along with our sister institutions Talladega and Tougaloo have been able to work together to receive this award,” said Dr. Leslie Pollard, Oakwood University president, in a statement released by the school. “We know that our students are the cream of the crop and this grant from UNCF and the Lilly Endowment is going to give us the edge that we need to make sure that when our students finish their degree they will be eligible for employment because of the career expose we will provide.”
Made possible through a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) is a unique pilot program for select historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly black institutions (PBIs) aimed at helping the schools enhance career readiness for their 54,000 enrolled students. Many of these students will be the first in their families to earn college degrees. The majority of students is from low-to-moderate income families and must receive federal financial aid to pursue their undergraduate studies.
Oakwood University submitted a proposal that reflects a commitment to strengthening career advising and mentoring, enhancing curricula, and supporting integrated co-curricular engagement. As part of CPI, the selected institutions will develop a range of academic programs, student internships, industry partnerships, specialty certifications, and faculty development as they forge a new model for career readiness.
According to an initial news release from the UNCF announcing the CPI initiative, employment prospects for HBCU graduates have been challenging in recent years.
“Since the recession ended in 2009, the problem of underemployment has become a crisis for young adults”
“Since the recession ended in 2009, the problem of underemployment has become a crisis for young adults,” according to the UNCF statement. “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.”
UNCF launched CPI in December 2015 through a rigorous and competitive multi-phased grant process that targeted 87 eligible public and private HBCUs and PBIs. In the first phase, UNCF made planning grants to 30 institutions. In the final phase, UNCF has chosen 24 colleges and universities for implementation grants. Of those schools, 15 institutions will receive individual awards ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million. Nine of the institutions, including Oakwood, have been selected for three cluster grants, in which each cluster of three institutions will collaborate intentionally to achieve their shared outcomes. Each cluster will receive up to $6 million.
Oakwood’s guided pathway provides student-centered and immersive experiences, a career preparation with faculty intended to guide students toward academic and professional success. The school said its vision “is an internal social media and highly connected guided career pathway to provide each graduate with 21st century career and technology tools needed to thrive.”
The 120-year-old Oakwood University was established at the direction of Ellen G. White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Initially named “Oakwood Industrial School,” the institution expanded from providing the recently-freed African-Americans of the South with the ability to learn a trade into a broader educational program. In 1943, it became a four-year degree granting institution known as Oakwood College, achieving University status in 2008.