The company’s innovative approach to working with historically Black colleges and universities is an important next step in its decades-long commitment to close the financial divide.
By Kara Corridan
For more than 150 years, historically Black colleges and universities have been essential to advancing economic mobility for Black Americans as world-class institutions that consistently produce top talent. And yet, funding remains a serious impediment for schools and students alike: federal funding for HBCUs was nearly cut in half between 2003 and 2015, and endowments are one-third the size of endowments at peer institutions. Nearly 3 in 5 HBCU students are from low-income families.
Prudential has a long history of supporting HBCUs and its students through recruiting, financial contributions and more. The company’s latest efforts focus on strengthening HBCUs’ capacity and assisting students with funding through a recent round of more than $3 million in grants. But its innovative strategy goes far beyond writing a check. Employees are lending their expertise and experience to these institutions, too.
Maurice Kuykendoll, chief financial officer, Group Insurance, is one such employee. As a graduate of Hampton University in Virginia, among the top HBCUs in the country, Kuykendoll represents Prudential on Hampton’s advisory board.
“I joined Prudential through a partnership with Hampton University that began almost 20 years ago,” says Kuykendoll. “In that time, I’ve seen the impact of our engagement with the school on students, faculty, alumni and the university’s programs. Our discussions have impacted its curriculum; we provide career advice to students; and more than 25 Hampton graduates have joined Prudential in recent years.”
Prudential sees three critical opportunities to enhance the ability of these institutions to support their students and broader communities. The company is incubating innovative models as a critical part of Prudential’s long-standing work to be a fully inclusive company and its nine commitments to advance racial equity outlined in 2020.
The opportunity: Provide students with financial support and education.
The backstory: There remains an ongoing crisis among students who fail to graduate due to unforeseen financial emergencies. For those without sufficient resources, even what some may consider a “minor” financial matter — say, a car in need of repair, a broken laptop that inhibits their class participation — can derail their path and put them at risk for not being able to stay in school. This has become even more prevalent in the hybrid environment brought on by the pandemic.
How Prudential makes a difference: Prudential supported the launch of the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program, a crucial service to address these expenses that disproportionately create setbacks for Black students, in partnership with the Student Freedom Initiative. This three-year pilot program will support nine HBCUs this spring. Qualifying students will receive money to address financial issues that could otherwise put their education at risk. Prudential will also provide age-appropriate, culturally sensitive financial literacy education and training for students.
“When a student is forced to leave college before graduation, the likelihood of defaulting on student loans increases tenfold, contributing to the $1.7 trillion student loan crisis,” explains Mark Brown, executive director of the Student Freedom Initiative. “Likewise, students who come from fragile economic circumstances often do not have the financial literacy they need to thrive. Prudential’s leadership and commitment as the inaugural partner of HELPS will support culturally sensitive financial literacy education, while also offering critical financial assistance to students at the pilot schools. We applaud their efforts to reduce the wealth gap and hope this encourages others to provide similar support.”
The opportunity: Help students secure quality internships and jobs and better prepare them for careers in the financial industry.
The backstory: More than half of students at HBCUs are the first in their family to go to college, which can limit the support and connections they can access to help land a meaningful first job. And less than one-third of Black students report being familiar with the financial services industry.
How Prudential makes a difference: In partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which prepares the next generation of workforce talent through leadership development, in March Prudential will host an on-site multiday program for HBCU students in Newark, New Jersey, to learn more about career opportunities and meet with senior leaders. TMCF will recruit 23 students and match them with Prudential employees as mentors for six months. Each student will also receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Through a separate grant to Hampton University, Prudential has established the Hampton Fellowship Program for an additional 20-25 students over two years. These sophomores and juniors will have the opportunity to visit Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, meet with senior leaders, and work with a mentor who can guide them through the recruitment and job interview process. The goal is twofold: to have Prudential increase the number of offers extended to and accepted by Hampton’s students, and to help bring more people of color into the financial services industry, where they have been historically underrepresented.
Prudential leaders will participate in at least 12 guest lectures at Hampton in both 2022 and 2023 to share their firsthand experiences and offer critical insights into the industry.
In addition, PGIM — Prudential’s asset management business — will create a simulated investment fund with Hampton that will help students get real-life asset management experience as a way to draw more top talent to the investment industry. This is intended to be the first of several student-run investment funds PGIM will help create with HBCUs. This effort is significant because by improving students’ educational experience, it improves their job prospects and, ultimately, their financial futures.
The opportunity: Further solidify HBCUs as drivers of civic and economic health in their communities.
The backstory: Much like Prudential’s own presence in Newark, HBCUs are widely recognized as anchor institutions because they are significant local employers and often a large purchaser of goods and services. Research has found that nationally, they can create 134,900 jobs and a gross economic benefit of $14.8 billion for local and regional economies each year. To continue this impact, HBCUs can benefit from assistance in managing their finances to help generate revenue and weather economic downturns.
How Prudential makes a difference: The company has made a grant to the Institute for Capacity Building at UNCF (formerly United Negro College Fund). The funding will support the Institute’s staff in strengthening the operational infrastructure at HBCUs.
At the same time, PGIM has a multiyear plan to bring not only financial resources but investment expertise to help HBCUs fortify their endowments. Through this strategy, PGIM intends to support HBCU board members and other stewards of financial capital in ensuring the endowments are positioned to weather the ups and downs of the market.
Taking a big-picture view, Prudential’s grant will also advance the Institute for Capacity Building’s public policy work to urge Congress to pass the HBCU IGNITE Excellence Act, which will drive more federal funding to these schools. And it will help launch a customer relationship management system, documenting best practices and processes into toolkits that will make it easier to engage with the partner schools it supports.
Drilling down to fundamental needs, many schools are in rural and economically challenged urban areas, making internet connectivity a challenge. To combat this, Prudential employees provided pro bono assistance in partnership with the Student Freedom Initiative with federal grant applications to improve broadband internet access for HBCUs and their surrounding communities.
Leaders like Kuykendoll are eager to see how both Prudential and HBCUs benefit from this unique partnership. “We’ll be able to contribute to the development of the next generation of leaders and ensure that these important institutions continue to make outsized contributions to the advancement of racial equity in our country.”