Historically Black Colleges and Universities have experienced several windfalls during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the many transformational gifts given by donors to the recent additions made to the Build Back Better Act. And just before the holidays, a dozen institutions are getting another boost from a notable source.
The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation announced it is contributing a total of $2 million to 12 HBCUs to help support new scholarships for Black students over the next five years, helping them overcome barriers such as systemic racism and inequality in education.
“Students represent the best of the human spirit—passion, curiosity and boundless dreams,” said Ralph Lauren, Executive Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Ralph Lauren Corporation. “When all students have an equal chance to succeed, their dreams become realities and inspire us all.”
There are two unique twists to the deal. The first is that while Morehouse College and Spelman College have been named two of the recipients, the other 10 will be chosen by the Foundation and the United Negro College Fund. The second is that those institutions will be selected based on their unmet financial need, enrollments and their existing academic pathways that can lead to opportunities in retail, especially in fashion.
“African American communities remain disproportionately impacted by the lack of resources needed to go to and through college,” said Michael Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF. “Recognizing that need, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation is fueling our ability to move the needle further for deserving, talented students who want to earn degrees but just lack the resources to do so.”
That includes a segment of the Morehouse College student population (60%) that continues to be impacted by financial hardship, with families earning $40,000 or less.
“Morehouse has a common cause with partners like the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation who believe that equity begins with education,” said Morehouse President David Thomas. “Through educational investments, which help elevate the creativity and professional competence of talented students of color, we today empower the innovators who will develop the fashions, products and services the world will demand tomorrow.”
Building inclusive and equitable career paths is a mission for the foundation and the company, which is continuing to try to build a diverse workforce through internships, mentoring and its own programs for the next generation of Black students.
“This new scholarship will allow high-achieving students in need of financial support to graduate with less debt, ready to step into their careers,” said Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell. “We’re extremely proud to join forces with the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation in its effort to increase equity and access in the fashion industry.”
Ralph Lauren is one of scores of corporations, along with Google ($50 million) and individuals putting their money behind HBCUs and their students. The most prominent of the gifts has come in waves from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who has given more than $4 billion to HBCUs and causes that support infrastructure improvements and traditionally underserved populations. Google also gave $50 million over the summer. And this week, actor Samuel L. Jackson and wife LaTanya gave $5 million to Spelman to help renovate the fine arts building on campus.
And there is more on the way, although delays likely will push big federal promises into next year. Having already passed through the House of Representatives, the Build Back Better plan in its current form designates $2 billion to HBCUs via funding for Title III programs, plus a likely $1 billion allotted for research and development infrastructure. There are other monies available but the final amounts are still to be determined.