At Morgan State, a historically Black university that serves more than 7,700 students in Baltimore, the gift will support academic programs in cryptocurrency, blockchain and mergers and acquisitions, said David Wilson, the school’s president.
“You would have to look long, very long, and hard to find African Americans, in particular, in those areas,” Wilson said. “Bank of America has recognized that and has raised its hand to say, ‘We have to do something about this, and it has to go beyond checking a box.’ ”
Anne Kress, president of the more than 51,000-student Northern Virginia Community College, said the grant will fund scholarships and provide support for FastForward — a short-term workforce credential program that trains students for jobs in the health care and information technology fields. Most programs take between six and 12 weeks to complete.
Kress said short-term programs have gained popularity “because people can plan for that length of time.” The unpredictability of the pandemic has made it difficult for many students to plan their lives around traditional 15-week semesters.
“This is an incredible investment by Bank of America,” Kress said, adding that her students — more than half of whom are people of color — are overrepresented in industries hit hardest by the pandemic, including retail and service jobs. She said she plans to use the grant to lead students into higher paying, more stable careers.
“If you’re a first-generation student and you’re from a neighborhood where no one’s worked in cybersecurity before . . . you don’t know those careers exist,” Kress said.
The Bank of America grant comes as corporations and philanthropists look to invest in historically Black universities and other schools with large minority enrollment in a year marked by protests over police violence and racial inequity. Amid a reckoning of racism has come a financial one, aimed at reversing decades of underinvestment in communities of color.
But the track records of these corporations can raise skepticism. At Bank of America — which just last year paid a $4.2 million settlement after being accused of discriminating against Black, Hispanic and female jobs applicants — about 19 percent of executive and senior-level managers at the company are minorities, according to 2019 data from the company. The company denied allegations of discrimination.
This year, Bank of America unveiled plans to change course, committing $1 billion over the next four years to assist communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, invest in minority-owned small businesses, promote affordable housing and support students of color.
“We can help address the widespread inequities in our communities by providing students with the resources they need for future employment and advancing economic mobility,” said Sabina Kelly, Greater Maryland market president for Bank of America.
Campus leaders say the investment is welcomed. It’s also overdue.
“Institutions such as Morgan, have long served as valuable pipelines to an overabundance of brilliant and highly capable African American talent,” Wilson said, “often untapped and underrepresented.”