As the annual White House Initiative on HBCUs annual conference kicked off in Washington D.C. this week, the gathering of HBCU presidents, executives, and Capitol Hill officials followed what may have been the year’s biggest example of collaboration between the federal government and the historically black college sector.
Alabama State University last week announced a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA) to support curriculum and training that will help students and graduates earn jobs and secure contracts with federal agencies.
“Our mantra is to provide students with the opportunity of a lifetime, and it shows our flexibility to provide necessary skills for today,” said Alabama State President Quinton Ross. “Being able to know what it means to enter into contracts with governments is going to be an essential skill in the near future. Our city is one of the headquarters for the VA, so it is a prime pipeline for our students to be competitive.”
The initiative is the first between the agency and a historically black institution, which is headline worthy in its own right. But its not just a platform of equal opportunity for a black college and black people, it is a timely extension of the federal government using capable institutions to advance outputs.
The Government Accountability Office last week issued a report detailing persistent challenges in training and workforce development in its defense acquisitions industry.
“….the federal acquisition workforce faces workload and training challenges. GAO’s work has shown that DOD has enhanced its workforce, but some workforce gaps endure at DOD and across agencies” and highlighted “…a significant mismatch between the demands placed on the acquisition workforce and the personnel and skills available to meet those demands. In 2006, we testified that DOD’s acquisition workforce, the largest component of the government’s acquisition workforce, remained relatively unchanged while the amount and complexity of contract activity had increased.”
Alabama State will soon be one of the nation’s training hubs to cut these gaps. It will offer a program that is difficult to get access to under typical federal guidelines for defense acquisition training modules. It will offer students from diverse geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds the chance to build careers or businesses in lucrative fields and change the scope of generational wealth acquisition for their families.
The WHI-HBCU conference will spend the next few days discussing the value of federal-HBCU partnerships, but the Alabama State-VAAA partnership is one that has all the blueprint-based elements of what we’d hope to see from all government agencies in support of black colleges. HBCUs are capable of focusing their programs of strength in areas of need for the federal government, and when federal agencies lend time, money and oversight to this focus, opportunities for HBCUs can be limitless; as they have been colleges and universities which have held similar partnerships for decades.
“This is what we like to call ‘CommUniversity,’ a term that denotes that the University is working in tandem with others within the community and abroad for the greater good of both,” said Dr. Ross. “We’re paving the way for sister institutions to be a part of these kinds of agreements. I think it opens the door.”