The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), in partnership with Deloitte Digital, announced the upcoming launch of an online learning platform and community called HBCUv to connect college and university students, faculty, and staff historically black people (HBCUs) across the country.

“I was so excited when I heard the news because it made me stand up and say okay people realize there’s a deficit among HBCUs when it comes to learning online,” said Dr. Patrice Glenn Jones, executive director of online education and programs at Alabama State University, a public HBCU. “Having UNCF, a nationally recognized organization, is key to connecting private HBCUs. We are much stronger when we work together, especially HBCUs.

UNCF is a national philanthropic organization that funds scholarships for black students and general scholarships for 37 private HBCUs. Deloitte Digital is a creative, digital and technology strategy consulting firm.

UNCF received more than $10 million to fund the HBCUv initiative from the Karsh Family Foundation, Lilly Foundation, Citi Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Still, UNCF said there remains a need for additional funding to expand HBCUv’s reach.

“With HBCUs, we have a group of institutions that punch above their weight, who are doing a better job of serving low-income and underserved students, but they haven’t had the opportunity to innovate like other colleges” said Julian Thompson, director of strategy at UNCF and a member of the HBCUv leadership team. “What we hope to do with HBCUv is give the leaders of these institutions the time and energy to see new ideas emerge in these spaces to help students succeed. I’m really excited about this.

The distance learning center will allow students to take credit courses and connect with other students and faculty at participating HBCUs. Starting next year, nine private HBCUs with approximately 8,000 students will join a pilot version of HBCUv. Synchronous and synchronous learning options will be available for students. Instructors will also be able to get predictive analytics on student performance and track student progress.

“One of the biggest opportunities unlocked by HBCUv will be connecting all HBCU campuses,” said Nathan Young, chief strategy officer at Ethos, the Deloitte Digital team working with UNCF on the learning center. “What happens when you take the entrepreneurial spirit of one HBCU to meet that of another? How many more black startups will be founded? How many more lasting relationships will be nurtured? other opportunities will be created to elevate each other that would not be possible with the physical limitations of the campus?”

The top nine HBCUs include Benedict College, Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, Jarvis Christian College, Johnson C. Smith University, Lane College, Shaw University, and Talladega College . Still, Thompson said 21 of UNCF’s 37 member institutions have expressed interest in the pilot project. The nine selected represent different geographies and institution sizes for a diverse initial cohort.

HBCUv will additionally offer courses taught by renowned black scholars in a range of subjects, including black history and American race relations. Through the platform, students will eventually be able to complete degree programs entirely online.

Both Young and Thompson pointed out that HBCUv also aims to translate HBCUs’ unique culture into the virtual space. To accomplish this, UNCF spent more than 3,300 hours speaking with HBCU faculty, staff, and students to ensure the new framework meets their needs.

“Adding the HBCU flavor to this online platform is what excites me most – and creating this space as a one-stop-shop for students,” said Dr. Valora Richardson, Director of Digital Solutions and innovation at UNCF. “In my years of working in university technology, I’ve never heard of an implementation that involved learner perspectives so much. It’s a first. »

When colleges pivoted online at the start of the pandemic, Glenn Jones noted that many HBCUs lacked a robust online infrastructure, largely due to decades of underfunding compared to predominantly white institutions. . Low-income students also often lacked reliable broadband access. And, as Thompson pointed out, with HBCUs educating many poor students, this digital divide has become another concern for HBCUs adjusting to online education.

For Glenn Jones, such challenges make the adoption of e-learning — and HBCUv — even more critical for HBCUs nationwide.

“Now my question is, who is going to do this among the public HBCUs?” she said, noting that there are more public than private HBCUs. “Even though our mission is an old one, we need to consider who we are in 2022 and make the necessary adjustments to prepare students beyond 2022.”

Rebecca Kelliher can be contacted at [email protected]