Provosts and administrators from the four HBCUs participate in the Gallery Walk

How might our institutions provide intentional and sustainable pathways to build 21st century competencies and help our students find meaningful employment in their desired career field?

As a part of our ongoing engagement with the United Negro College Fund’s Career Pathways Initiative, we’re working with 14 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to explore possibilities to answer this question. We recently facilitated a two-day session for four HBCUs using human-centered design and project planning to fast-track programs that foster student success beyond graduation. Hosted at Dillard University, ACCELERATE! New Orleans was the first of three sessions structured to accelerate concept and pilot development for one campus initiative at each institution. The next two sessions will be held at Florida Memorial University in Miami, Florida, and at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Understanding the Data
In meeting with our HBCU campus partners, their care and concern for students was clear; however, the lack of alignment between their work on campus and the rapidly changing landscape of the world of work that students enter post-graduation also became evident—a sentiment that has been echoed over and over again in our work with other institutions. Many attendees, including college provosts, undergraduate deans, directors of career services, and other critical roles, were surprised to learn what the national literature has to say about career outcomes for African-American graduates, and graduates of HBCUs, specifically. 

HBCU administrator participates in journey mapping exercise

Designing Meaningful Solutions
Using design tools, we painted a picture of the competitive job market, which is in great need of well-prepared, diverse and competent professionals who can fill a variety of cross-functional roles. Building on the national data, we then worked in teams to map out students’ experiences today at their institutions. Visualizing the student journey allowed participants to surface  opportunities and insights into how they might best position students to build 21st century competencies (such as collaboration, oral communication and initiative) and secure meaningful employment after graduation. The teams were then able to think more strategically about where they can align programs or interventions in the students’ experience, and about what would make the greatest impact on their students given the resources that they currently have available.

Shifting Institutional Culture
Throughout this session, we could not help but wonder how institutions could create a culture around mapping the student experience against employment outcomes more commonplace. As 91% of incoming college students consider a university’s ability to make them more employable when choosing a college, institutions will need to be much more intentional in ensuring that students are gaining the 21st century skills needed to be successful in the job search and beyond. This work requires a cultural shift at many of our institutions—colleges and universities will need to ask critical questions of their current practices. Among the questions that surfaced through the design sessions: How does the core curriculum help students to develop the competencies necessary to excel in the world of work? How are faculty positioned to facilitate the development of these skills? How are employers engaged to best understand which skills are valued?

This design session in New Orleans reinforced the importance of keeping the needs of students and employers at the center of program design on campus. Demands from an evolving job market compel us to consider these needs concurrently as these institutions work with us to reimagine an undergraduate experience that adequately prepares students to be well-rounded, productive, engaged and employable citizens. Our next session in Miami will build on these learnings to explore how faculty can be empowered to strengthen their role in building key 21st century competencies in their students.