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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nelson

Congressional HBCU Caucus connects Black colleges to tech opportunities, cheap internet for students

In collaboration with Truist Bank, formerly SunTrust and BB&T banks, the Bi-Partisan HBCU Caucus held its 4th Annual Diversity in Tech Summit earlier today.

Hosted by Congresswoman Alma Adams, the founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Birtisan HBCU Caucus, the half-day online event focused on bringing together "private sector, government, and education leaders to address, and ultimately improve, the representation of Black Americans and people of color, including women of color, in the tech sector," according to a press release by the congresswoman. The summit is supported by 62 corporate partners.

“HBCU students, faculty, staff and their communities have been particularly hard hit over the past year, so this discussion couldn’t come at a more important time. I applaud all of our private partners for working with us create 21st century opportunity for the institutions and students who need our help the most, and for committing to diverse workforces in every sector,” said Adams.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel anchored the summit as part of a keynote panel discussing broadband access at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Rosenworcel was joined on the panel by Hubert D. Harris, Chief of Staff at Virginia State University, and Darryl McMillan, Chief Information Officer at Delaware State University.

“It’s clearer than ever that high-speed internet access is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have. It’s why I’m proud that the FCC stood up the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in record time and already enrolled millions of households in its first few weeks," said Chairwoman Rosenworcel in a statement. “Pell Grant recipients, including many HBCU students, are now able to receive the support they need to get online and stay connected to keep up with their studies."

Harris and McMillan both shared some of the challenges faced by students and institutions in the wake of pandemic-related shifts to to online learning.

Harris noted that the Virginia State University's increased reliance on virtual learning revealed that many students lacked adequate internet bandwidth to support video conferencing. According to Harris, some students who shared internet devices with other family members also faced difficulty in meeting the demands of online coursework.

McMillan described Delaware State's delayed upgrade to VOIP technology and the challenges the school faced in meeting new tech demands in the face of aging infrastructure.

Rosenworcel assured both McMillan and Harris that present funding opportunities to expand broadband access and speeds for HBCUs and HBCU students could potentially alleviate such challenges. Currently the FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit offers up to $50 per month in reduced broadband costs for eligible applicants. The Chairwoman also mentioned the recent approval of the $285M Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, an initiative designed to also expand broadband access in minority communities nationwide.

The Diversity in Tech Summit also highlighted the HBCU Caucus’ HBCU Partnership Challenge. The Partnership Challenge encourages the over 60 participating organizations to make greater investments in HBCUs.

The full keynote panel can be viewed online here.

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