Businesses are the primary direct consumer of America’s students. In many ways, they have the most to lose. Luckily, businesses have made tremendous contributions to their local communities as well as nationally to support students of color and expose them to the possibilities for what comes after high school or college.
Tata Consultancy Services' (TCS) goIT
The IT community has long understood the need to increase diversity in STEM fields. Since 2009, TCS has reached more than 9,000 students through its goIT student technology awareness program, which offers hands-on technology-related workshops and mentorship programs to students. TCS employees share their technical knowledge with the students and serve as mentors in an effort to, as one volunteer says, “dedicate time to prepare a new generation of creators and makers of technology." TCS’ goIT programs target minority and female students, exposing them to the field and empowering them to enter STEM careers.
In 2014, goIT reached students in 12 cities. The program is expanding to 27 cities across 20 states and provinces in Canada by the end of 2016. The interaction between mentors and mentees is crucial, so TCS ensures that adequate time is spent training volunteers and teaching them how to be effective corporate mentors. “We are bringing the people who make interactive technology and innovate for our clients everyday across the U.S. and Canada, and pairing them up with students, many of whom do not have access to technology or role models. That’s what makes our program different,” says Pam Rodrigues of TCS’s corporate social responsibility team.
goIT partners with schools and nonprofit organizations—such as the Boys and Girls Club, NPower, TechBridge, National 4H Council, and Teach for America—to further its reach. Programs range from basic coding challenges to design thinking and app development. In 2014, 1,800 students completed goIT programs, and TCS intends to reach 2,500 in the upcoming year. Surveys indicate that 70% of goIT students experience an increase in STEM interest, while participating schools report on average a 27% increase in the number of graduates pursuing STEM education or careers postgraduation.
EverFi, Inc., a leading education technology innovator, works to empower its learners with the essential skills that prepare them for success in work and life. With backing from some of technology’s most innovative leaders including Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Twitter founder Evan Williams, EverFi has built a comprehensive skills learning platform focused on STEM Career Readiness, Financial Education, Health & Wellness, Diversity and Inclusion, and Entrepreneurship. The EverFi Education Network partners with more than 1,200 organizations—mostly businesses—across all 50 states and Canada and has certified more than 12 million students in these critical skills, with a particular focus on low-income and underserved communities.
Specifically in EverFi’s STEM Career Readiness work, EverFi has committed to lighting a spark that connects students to the possibilities and workforce opportunities in STEM. It has developed three digital STEM education platforms designed to inspire and empower students with critical STEM skills and interest: Radius-STEM Readiness™, Future Goals-Hockey Scholar™, and Ignition-Digital Literacy™. With an on-the-ground team of former teachers, EverFi partners with educators across the country to implement these courses into classrooms, particularly those in low-income communities. The Ignition and Radius courses alone have impacted more than 800,000 students. In an analysis of more than 3,000 students who completed the Radius course, EverFi demonstrated a 15% increase in computer science and engineering interest, a key component to keep students taking STEM courses.
Detroit Regional Chamber’s Commitment to Make College a Reality for Local Students
Many chambers of commerce across the country have led the business community in increasing student access to college. Over the past 25 years the Detroit Regional Chamber has provided Compact Scholarships to enable more than 2,000 students to attend four-year universities in the state. The Compact has served as a last-dollar financial aid program where Detroit Public Schools (DPS) students had to graduate with a 3.2 GPA, an ACT score of 21, and file a FAFSA form to be eligible. The chamber then provided a scholarship to cover the residual costs of attendance. Federal, state, and the generous institutional aid from the participating schools typically covered most of the costs for students, but providing that extra $1,000 to $2,000 made college a reality for up to 150 Detroit students each year. Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent, shares the real value in a program like this. He says, “A lot of kids are mystified by the financial aid process. We have helped them realize its full potential and then made an effort to pick up the rest of the tab for some of Detroit’s most underserved students.” Of those students, who are predominately African-American, 59% graduate in four years—a substantially higher rate than the average for African-American students nationwide.
Though a significant source of support, the scholarship program did not reach every student who qualified. “We estimate that each year approximately 400–500 Detroit students met our requirements for a scholarship,” Handel adds, “which is why we are transitioning to a new program called the Detroit Scholarship Fund that will help cover the costs of college for every student that deserves one.” With the help of Governor Rick Snyder, the state has established the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation (MEEF) to raise funds and support various education efforts statewide, including the new Detroit Scholarship Fund. MEEF will continue to collect donations from the business community to help finance the chamber’s expansion efforts.
The chamber’s work has recently led to the creation of an inclusive community college scholarship program eligible to all Detroit students. Through pilot testing, the chamber realized the threat attrition poses to any new program’s return on investment. Only 170 of the original 550 community college students returned for a second year. To encourage retention, peer mentoring and coaching initiatives will accompany the launch of the new program. After the implementation of the new scholarship structure, the Detroit Regional Chamber hopes to help finance the education for 500 four-year and 500 community college students from Detroit each year, and provide the tools and resources necessary to help them graduate.