In a Workforce Growing Less Dependent on College Education, HBCUs Still Matter

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce last week published a new report on the national outlook for jobs which will not require a college degree as a standard of eligibility.

By the study’s estimates, 30 million jobs are now available and paying a median average $55,000 annually for citizens entering the workforce with a high school diploma, and the study itself is a preamble to a forthcoming database which will help citizens to find jobs matching non-baccalaureate educational credentials. 

The report also details the kinds of people holding these jobs, and where they are being hired. Two of the top five states in the country with the highest number of ‘good jobs’ not requiring a college degree are ‘HBCU states;’ Texas and Florida, with 4.2 million positions, respectively.

Of the top five states with the highest percentage of good jobs, Maryland ranks as the only HBCU state with 46 percent of positions not requiring a bachelor’s degree.

When breaking down the racial demographics of who gets ‘good jobs’ without a college degree? African Americans place third behind white (67 percent) and Latino (16 percent) workers, with 11 percent of the total non-degreed workforce.

Over the last 25 years, African Americans rank last in the percentage of citizens being hired for these jobs, with just a two percent increase between 1991 and 2015 compared to a 10 percent increase for Hispanic workers, and a 16 percent decrease for white workers over the same period.

How does all of this correlate for HBCUs? With more black students attending college, but facing more challenges to earning degrees, community college and technical training is being marketed as a better career pathway for prospective HBCU enrollees. And when balanced against the realities of how public funding flows in and around higher education, the prospects are that much more disheartening.

Delaware State University is being outpaced by Delaware Technical College in 2018 recommended appropriations $36 million to $80 million. A free community college initiative in Tennessee has spurred similar programs in Oregon and New York. Many states have moved to performance based funding models for schools, which puts HBCUs at significant disadvantages given their unique enrollment and training missions.

It is clear that HBCU remain critical to carrying Black America’s imperative  at creating generational wealth – even as the country becomes less reliant on college graduates to comprise its labor force.

There are tremendous opportunities for black colleges in key industries to create or to fortify workforce pipelines. Engineering, computer and natural science, agriculture, social work and public health, secondary education, business, hospitality and mass communications might be industrial strengths, but to compete with job growth in transportation, construction, and skilled technician work, HBCU strengths will need to be paired with pipelines to these jobs.

At its lowest scale, schools can create work experience and entrepreneurial exposure opportunities for traditional and nontraditional students. Schools like Paul Quinn College and Shaw University have already put programming in action to support low-income traditional students and adult learners across industries.

But at its best, HBCUs can also develop entrepreneurial models to support non-tuition revenue building, job creation, and workforce training. Schools can reform business auxiliary strategy with mixed-use buildings, municipal partnerships in transportation, commercial and residential property management and leasing, and franchising options in healthcare, business services, and retail.

There is room to keep the HBCU mission, to prepare graduates for career pathways, and to keep pace with industrial realities. But it begins with separating the reality of threats from possibilities.

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