Process Failure: A Grantmaker Bankrolls Fixes to the "Broken College Career Pipeline"

On paper, the process sounds simple enough. Student graduates high school. Student applies to college. Student goes to college, graduates, and gets a job.

Reality, however, is a bit messier. Consider the following statistic. According to the Census Bureau, only 32.5 percent of the population 25 and older has a bachelor’s degree or more. (That figure struck me as way too low, so I did some additional digging, and as it turns out, it's actually more or less accurate.) But it gets worse. For African Americans, the figure stands 22.5 percent. 

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) calls this process failure the "broken college-career pipeline" and its Career Pathways Initiative hopes to fix it. And thanks to a supporting $6 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, three traditionally African American colleges in South Carolina—Claflin University, Benedict College, and Voorhees College—now have the funds to put the initiative into practice.

"The three institutions submitted strong proposals for this highly competitive initiative, proposals that reflect a commitment to strengthening student supports, including career advising and mentoring, enhancing curricula and championing integrated co-curricular engagement," said Edwards Smith-Lewis, of UNCF's Career Pathways Initiative.

The UNCF Career Pathways Initiative is a seven-year, grant-funded pilot program designed to enhance selected institutions’ capacity to help their students find meaningful employment in their desired career fields.

As previously noted in our look at the Lilly Endowment's work in the higher ed space, the grantmaker gave the initiative a $50 million infusion in 2015, matching the record for the largest UNCF grant ever awarded. Lilly's all in.

And why, exactly, is Lilly all in? Simple. Lilly believes that the initiative will send more African Americans to college and graduate on a pathway to meaningful employment. Lilly wants, well, solutions. And so the initiative is uniquely attuned to modern philanthropy's ever-growing love affair with performance metrics.

The initiative will work to "improve career outcomes for graduates within one year of their graduation" as defined by "improving measures of student success such as retention, persistence, and graduation rates" and "improving graduates’ career placement rates, including postgraduate, and career outcomes.

"This investment, overall...helps to make the story of the 21st-century workforce more diverse and more inclusive," Claflin President Henry N. Tisdale said. "That’s something that we don’t want to miss."