With fall just weeks away, students across the U.S. are embarking on their college careers, increasingly more so at HBCUs. In 2015, Pew Research reported nearly 300,000 students were enrolled in HBCUs at the time, marking a notable and steady increase over the last decade.
But what comes hand-in-hand with the joy and pride of seeing so many eager students pursue higher education is the sobering and unavoidable fact of crippling student debt.
According to the Federal Reserve, most college students graduate with an average of $29,000 in student loan debt, that number climbs significantly when you look at grad school graduates.
They then face a debilitating wait as they navigate the job market, struggling to compensate for a lack of experience by hopping from one internship to another - often getting paid very little if at all in the process.
There is also the pressing notion that some HBCUs suffer from exceptionally high drop-out rates, mostly due to students who can’t afford to stay enrolled.
But an ambitious nonprofit, Thought Leadership & Innovation Foundation (TLI), aims to bridge the gap between students and post-college preparedness by introducing new programs within the cybersecurity sector at HBCUs.
Bill Oldham, the president and founder of TLI, answered a few questions about cybersecurity, what it is and why it can be an opportunity for Black students at HBCUs to leave college ready to work in high-paying jobs.
Cybersecurity used to refer to the program your dad loaded onto the family PC to prevent email viruses from wiping out everyone’s files. But in 2019, it takes on a much more varied definition.
Cybersecurity has become more important as the world begins to live more of their lives (and share more of their information) online. As the demand for cybersecurity increases, so too do the jobs - that’s where TLI comes in.
Oldham’s company, which he founded 25 years ago, wants to see those profitable cyber security jobs filled by Black students and graduates and specifically those who attend HBCUs. “Currently, only 3% of these jobs are held by African-Americans,” he said, citing the gaping hole in the diversity.
He went on to explain that, like any other field, any space that is lacking diversity is going to suffer: “Leaders make better choices when their companies are diverse.”
Another benefit to introducing more educational programs and training in cybersecurity is that it can offer students better options for internships and work during and right out of college. The proposed programming will land graduates in some of the nations top companies like Deloitte and IBM.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the earning potential is upwards of $98,000 a year in a market that is expected to grow 28% in the next six years. Some programs may be a six-month course and a certification test, others could be full degree programs.
The range of options allows students to certify for positions and internships while they’re still in school, which could be a career-saving resource for those whose families aren’t able to foot the tuition bill and cost of living expenses.
This could allow for students to start paying off college debt while in school and simultaneously collect valuable experience that puts them ahead of the curve when they graduate.
Though he wasn’t specific about which schools TLI is in talks with currently, Bill said they are garnering interest from the nation's top 25 HBCUs. Students can look forward to new programs in place sometime around mid-2020.
To learn more about the work TLI is doing to diversify the workforce or to support their efforts, head over to https://www.thoughtfoundation.org.