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Investing in Black Student Success — On Campus and Beyond

February 17, 2022

By Saúl Valdez, Program Officer, College Success

When it comes to how ECMC Foundation supports Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), we’ve directed our funding to approach the campus holistically from working directly with faculty and administrators to serving students.

Through our College Success portfolio and other efforts, we look forward to doing our part to not only increase degree attainment but also to help develop and elevate the next generation of effective HBCU and MSI leadership. Because HBCUs have such a profound impact on their students and on the Black community, they have been a longtime focus of ECMC Foundation’s work. Current and recent partnerships include those with Clark Atlanta University, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice,  the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and Triton College, as well as a recently concluded grant to SAAB.

Clark Atlanta University

At Clark Atlanta University, ECMC Foundation joined with other founders to launch the HBCU Executive Leadership Institute (ELI). Students at HBCUs face specific and unrelenting challenges beyond those of their counterparts at predominantly white institutions, and leaders of HBCUs have the added responsibility of ensuring their institutions’ futures. ELI aims to nurture that talent pipeline and help preserve and strengthen HBCUs as institutions of opportunity.

This innovative program launched in April 2021, with an inaugural cohort composed of 58 percent women and former Atlanta Mayor and HBCU graduate Keisha Lance Bottoms as the program's first honorary fellow. ELI offers aspiring HBCU presidents and other executive-level leaders a robust curriculum covering operations, budgeting, alumni relations, fundraising, board governance, human resource management and more — all components of effective college leadership. The program also connects cohort members to coaching and ongoing mentorship from former HBCU leaders and aims to identify graduates as candidates for executive-level vacancies at HBCUs, including presidencies.

ELI’s goal is to preserve and strengthen HBCUs as hubs of opportunity and uplift in the Black community—and incubate over 100 future HBCU presidents. The program is already well on the way to reaching its goal, with the second cohort of leaders just selected last month.

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice

In January, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice and the Center for the Study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities launched the #RealCollege™ HBCU initiative to build an ecosystem of basic needs supports for HBCU students.

As part of the initiative, the Hope Center released a report revealing that 2/3 of HBCU students experienced basic needs insecurity, with many losing their jobs and more than half having a friend or family member get sick. The survey highlighted in the report focused on food and housing insecurity as well as homelessness. “HBCUs need far greater resources and capacity to assist their students,” the report concludes. The new partnership will support 10 HBCUs — including Bishop State Community College, Delaware State University, Paul Quinn College and Grambling State University — in building a network of basic needs support.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF)

In response to the inequities exposed by the rapid shift to remote learning during the pandemic, TMCF partnered with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) to train 240 faculty at four public HBCUs in effective online instruction, with the ultimate goal of improving student success. Remote learning challenged these institutions’ ability to educate their students. Even as relief funding helped bridge some digital gaps, faculty across TMCF’s member campuses expressed the acute need to improve online teaching methods.

ACUE’s Effective Practice Framework (EPF), developed in close collaboration with several HBCUs and MSIs, found strong success with its initial cohorts. Building upon it, ACUE then developed its Effective Online Teaching Practices (EOTP) modules, which encourage faculty to work recommended practices into their own courses. TMCF secured funding for 11 eligible HBCUs to participate in the new modules, and the four funded by this latest direct grant —Bowie State University, Harris Stowe State University, Tennessee State University and West Virginia State University — launched cohorts totaling up to 60 faculty per institution last summer and early fall. Together, faculty learn how to become more effective online instructors, including how to be innovative, engaging and compelling. TMCF also received prior support from ECMC Foundation to partner with META to provide mental health and well-being support to their network institutions.

Triton College

Triton College — a community college in River Grove, Illinois — was designated a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) by the United States Department of Education in 2011, meaning that more than a quarter of its students are Hispanic. Today, Triton’s student body is 42 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black/African American — and nearly 60 percent of students overall hail from minority backgrounds. Triton is also a member of ECMC Foundation grantee Achieving the Dream, which advances evidence-based improvements for community colleges. Recognizing the particular opportunity gaps men of color find in their higher education pursuits, the institution launched the Triton Undergraduate Men Pursuing Higher Education (TRIUMPH) program’s first cohort of 25 students in 2014.

TRIUMPH pairs participant scholars with mentors and offers targeted workshops designed to increase social, emotional and non-cognitive skills for success like emotional management, conflict resolution, time management, financial literacy, etiquette, life skills and goal setting. The inaugural cohort had a 100 percent three-year graduation rate, with alumni also receiving assistance in transferring to a four-year institution or gaining employment. This highly successful pilot inspired subsequent cohorts — but initially was only able to support less than two percent of Triton’s men of color.

ECMC Foundation’s recent grant helped the program expand — including to Waubonsee Community College, Elgin Community College, and Kennedy-King College — and to improve its data collection and evaluation — and served some 350 Black and Brown scholars across participating campuses. One of the country’s first programs that comprehensively targets men of color at the postsecondary level, TRIUMPH’s goals for its scholars also include expanding their own potential and overcoming cultural boundaries in addition to degree completion.


Founded in Missouri in 1990, the SAAB supports young men of color in their college careers, operating on college campuses and at middle and high schools in 39 states. The organization’s national headquarters provides ongoing connection among and technical assistance for the 250 student-run chapters. The program is “designed to offset the many inherent systemic challenges that men of color often face living in America, such as attending low-performing schools and being over-represented in the criminal justice system,” and chapters coordinate weekly meetings, tutoring, community service, financial affairs, spiritual enrichment and more.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, SAAB sought to strengthen its national-level operations with support from an ECMC Foundation grant, leading to a revamped website and brand identity, as well as cutting-edge data systems management. Both updates have allowed SAAB to operate more effectively and to strengthen donor relations, as well as expand its welcome to a more diverse group of young men of color. SAAB participants already maintain a graduation rate nearly double the national average for African American men, and its leaders are excited to engender similar results for Latino, South East Asian and Pacific Islander students.

Our Commitment to Equity

These grants all represent important advances for racial equity in higher education, at both the institutional and individual levels and across geographies and types of institution. From improved student outcomes and graduation rates, to expanding professional development for faculty and administrators, to assuring students’ basic needs are met, ECMC Foundation is proud to bolster meaningful change nationwide. We look forward to seeing what our partners will achieve in 2022 and beyond. For more on our commitment to equity, read our 2021 annual report.


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