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Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played a critical role in higher education in the United States. Founded during Reconstruction, these institutions became a pathway for advancement and hope for Black students who were barred from attending most colleges and universities in the US. HBCUs were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, organizing protests and sit-ins and advocating for equal rights, and they continue to support their communities through their commitment to social justice and equality. HBCUs continue to play a critical role in providing education and career opportunities for Black students. While they represent only 3% of all higher-education institutions in the United States, they enroll 10% of all Black college students and accounted for 17% of all bachelor’s degrees and 24% of all STEM-related bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students in the United States in 2019(1). Additionally, 40% of Black engineers, 50% of Black lawyers, 70% of Black doctors, and 80% of Black judges attended an HBCU(2).

Navigating Budget Constraints and Cybersecurity Compliance

HBCUs are not without challenges, particularly regarding technology. Many HBCUs face budget constraints that prevent them from upgrading their technology platforms, which puts them at a significant disadvantage given the increased reliance on digitization and hybrid teaching. The federal government will soon require that institutions administering federal student aid programs authorized under the US Department of Education’s Title IV (including Pell Grants, Director Loans and Federal Work Study) comply with NIST 800–171, a set of security standards under the NIST Cybersecurity Framework required for universities with contractual ties to the federal government. HBCUs rely heavily on Title IV funding and the possibility of failing to meet the standards puts them and their students at risk of losing access to these funds.

Partnering to Empower HBCUs for a Better Tomorrow

Cisco has worked closely with HBCUs to address their technology challenges as part of its commitment to an inclusive future for all and social justice. One example is the support Cisco is providing Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Working in partnership with the Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making college more affordable for students attending minority-serving institutions, Cisco is donating over $1.7 million in products, services, and training over five years to address their technology needs. Additionally, Cisco is helping Claflin and other HBCUs meet NIST compliance.

Ensuring HBCUs Continue Their Legacy

One of the Cisco team members leading this effort is Shaunya Ishmael, a graduate of Tuskegee University and Clark Atlanta University. She said the following about her work on this project and her time at HBCUs: “My HBCU was a great environment to discover who I was…I was in a safe place. The work I get to do here at Cisco to help HBCUs with NIST compliance will help ensure these institutions are open to serve future generations and continue to be pillars in their communities.”


To see more about Cisco’s work with HBCUs, check out this video:

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(1) How HBCUs can accelerate Black economic mobility

(2) A Proclamation on National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week, 2022


Brad Saffer

Global Education Lead

Cisco Industry Solutions

Morgan Bright

Marketing Specialist

Industry Marketing Group