The Walmart Foundation Is Boosting Its Support of African-American College Students

Only a few months after providing $1.75 million in support to the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the United Negro College Fund, the Walmart Foundation has provided another grant aimed at historically black colleges and universities, and the students attending them.

The lucky recipient this time is the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., TMCF provides scholarships to students attending the nation's HBCUs. The fund awards more than $1.5 million in scholarships a year. The scholarships are based on financial need, but students must meet certain criteria to qualify, including a grade point average of at least 3.0.

But TMCF does not limit its work to scholarships. It also conducts an annual Leadership Institute, a program of coaching and mentoring for low-income and first-generation college students. The $600,000 from Walmart Foundation will support this program.

Critics of Walmart will likely see this gift as another effort by the retail giant to improve its public image against a wave of bad publicity over the years. But PR ploy or not, the grant to TMCF is in step with past large grants by the Walmart Foundation, in that it is aimed at career readiness for African-Americans. The $1.75 million in grants awarded earlier in 2014 funded similar programs. 

Whatever you may think of the funder's parent company, it is clear that Walmart Foundation has made some strategic choices in its grantmaking, including higher education and career readiness among populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in the nation's colleges and universities.

Related: How the Walmart Foundation Supports Higher Education

Those choices are in sync with similar choices by other corporate funders, particularly large banks, to invest in tomorrow's diverse work force by helping more low-income young people enter college ready to succeed and then to actually complete college.

Meanwhile, a range of corporate funders in the science and technology sector are putting big resources into bolstering the STEM skills of young Americans, with a particular focus on students of color, a trend we write about often in our science education section. 

What's notable about Walmart's philanthropic effort is that it's being led by more seasoned veterans in philanthropy and nonprofit work than we usually see at corporate foundations, which are more typically led by longtime company figures.

The Walmart Foundation's former president, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, was at the Gates Foundation before coming to Walmart (and is now head of HHS in the Obama Administration), and the current leader, Kathleen McLaughlin, has an impressive resume working with government agencies and NGOs during her time at consulting giant McKinsey.

In addition to HBCUs, Walmart Foundation also has shown strong interest in community colleges.

Higher education institutions, and organizations interested in college and career readiness programs should continue to keep track of this funder's work.