USAID Engagement with Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Strengthening ties between Historically Black Colleges and Universities and USAID


Like many organizations and government agencies, the United States Agency for International Development USAID is interested in diversifying its staff and its network of partners and vendors. One way to do this is by strengthening USAID's ties with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). HBCUs enroll 10 percent of all Black students and award 26 percent of all Black bachelor's degrees and 32 percent of all Black bachelor's degrees in STEM fields in the United States. HBCUs also employ 96 percent of Black faculty as professors. By fortifying partnerships with HBCUs, USAID has the opportunity to involve underrepresented students in their hiring pipelines and underrepresented faculty in development and research projects.

To understand and overcome the obstacles to such partnerships, NORC led the first comprehensive study of the multifaceted relationship between USAID and HBCUs, particularly the barriers that limit USAID funding mechanisms to HBCUs. The study's primary goals were helping USAID understand the challenges HBCUs face in engaging with the agency and making recommendations to strengthen partnerships between USAID and HBCUs.

The study was led by two HBCU alumnae--Dr. Pearline Tyson, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County who earned her PhD at Howard Univeristy, and Shanelle Haile, a PhD candidate at Brown University who earned her undergraduate degree at Spellman College. Both researchers are contributors to USAID's Regional Technical Assistance Center, which NORC established and manages. The study was conducted with support from the MayaTech Corporation.

Fifty-eight out of 101 HBCUs participated in this study via surveys, interviews, or both. Additionally, researchers conducted 12 informational interviews with USAID staff. Researchers used the Bronfenbrenner Ecological Systems Theory framework to analyze their data. This framework examines barriers that exist across micro-, meso-, exo-, and macrosystems.

Through this multilayered analysis, the authors found that the barriers to deeper HBCU-USAID engagement are structural (such as fiscal and policy restraints) and individual (competing personal and professional demands, faculty professional networks, USAID staff preferences). The authors recommended combining resources by creating collaborative research networks and streamlining communication and knowledge, among other actions.

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