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How to Recruit Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions of higher learning that were established prior to 1964 to provide educational opportunities to Black Americans when they would not have otherwise had access to them. When these colleges were first established, classes were held in church basements and people's homes, until the Morrill Act of 1890 provided land grants for the schools to build their own campuses. Today there are over 100 HBCUs around the country that enroll thousands of students.

HBCUs have meant success for many students, and they can also mean success in your organization if you incorporate them into your early career recruiting strategies. Continue reading to find out more about these colleges and universities, the students who attend them, and the recruitment strategies you can use to attract this untapped talent.

Facts Every Employer Should Know About HBCUs

As you consider incorporating HBCUs into your diversity recruitment plan, consider the following facts about these important colleges and universities:

  • Although 89 percent of HBCUs can be found in the South, there are also historically Black colleges and universities in other areas of the country, such as Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and Ohio. (Thurgood Marshall College Fund)
  • A Gallup-Purdue University survey found that 55 percent of Black HBCU graduates report feeling well-prepared for life after college, while only about 30 percent of their counterparts at other institutions felt the same way. (Inside Higher Ed)
  • Some of the most highly accomplished Black individuals attended HBCUs. In fact, these graduates make up 40 percent of engineers, 50 percent of attorneys, and 80 percent of judges in the community. (The Network Journal)

How to Recruit Students From HBCUs

There are several ways you can add historically Black colleges and universities to your recruitment activities. The following are effective strategies you can use to recruit students from HBCUs.

1. Create an Employer Brand Built on Diversity

Before you start any recruitment activity at HBCUs, make sure you have a strong employer brand that emphasizes diversity and inclusion. Prospective employees will search your company before applying for any positions, and they want to see proof that your organization truly values D&I. Promote all of your diversity, equity, and inclusion activities on your recruiter websites and social media, and if you don't already have a culture that prioritizes these values, explore ways to incorporate D&I into your company as you communicate to the public that becoming more diverse is a priority.

2. Partner With Black Student Groups and Associations

Partnering with student groups on HBCU campuses is a great opportunity to increase your visibility among Black students and get to know them better. With this strong campus presence, you can sell your company to students and get them excited about possibly working for you. In addition to campus groups, there are also organizations that cater to Black students enrolled in certain majors or living in specific geographic locations that you can partner with to raise awareness about your company.

3. Cast a Wide Net

Although you may be tempted to just target the most well-known HBCUs for your diversity recruitment, it's important to cast a wider net to increase the likelihood of finding the talent you want. Keep in mind that there are 100 historically Black colleges and universities around the country, so you really could be missing out on finding qualified candidates if you only focus on schools like Morehouse College, Howard University, and Spelman College.

4. Partner With Career Centers

Another way to increase your visibility on HBCU campuses is to form partnerships with career centers there. These relationships can help you create a funnel from colleges to your company because they can introduce you to possible interns, as well as graduates looking for employment. In addition, career centers may organize job fairs that you can participate in to further get in front of Black students.

5. Get Referrals From Black Employee Resource Group

If you have an employee resource group for Black workers, it can be a good resource to tap into for referrals of current HBCU students, as well as graduates. You can also create an employee referral program that everyone can participate in to help fill your hiring funnel pipeline with graduates from underserved communities who attended a variety of colleges.

What HBCU Students Value at Work

If you have successfully recruited graduates from HBCUs, that is a big step toward making your organization more diverse. However, if your workplace is not also welcoming, and you don't provide equitable access to opportunities, it's not likely you’ll be able to retain these employees. It's important to keep in mind what students from HBCUs value in a workplace, such as:

  • Career development: Students at HBCUs want to be confident that their education will lead to a successful career, so they want to work for organizations that give them equitable access to career development opportunities. Make sure your company is providing promotions and raises in an equitable fashion across the board, as well as access to career development resources that will help HBCU graduates move up the ladder of your organization.
  • Social responsibility: Workers in younger generations, including HBCU students, are especially concerned about working for employers that have a strong sense of social responsibility and willingness to give back to the community. They care about a variety of causes—from social justice to the environment to equitable access to opportunities—and they want to work for employers that demonstrate they care about those causes too. 
  • Inclusive culture: Your company may be diverse, but is it inclusive? Are you making employees from underrepresented communities feel like they’re truly part of your workplace culture? HBCU students are looking for opportunities to not only have a job, but to feel like they’re embraced and can bring their authentic selves to work. In addition to a culture that welcomes them, HBCU graduates are also looking for work-life balance and a company that cares about their mental health.

Students from HBCUs bring a lot to the table, and they want to work in environments that will help them thrive. By understanding who the students are, and using these recruiting tips to help attract employees from underrepresented communities, you can increase the diversity at your organization and bring in fresh talent that will move your company forward.

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