Contact: Melanie Harris

October 13, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS— Complete College America (CCA), a leading national organization focused on improving student outcomes by transforming postsecondary education systems, is launching a new initiative focused on digital learning innovation at Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs). Designed as a first-of-its-kind national effort, the initiative will focus on co-designing a strategy with HBCUs focused on understanding, synthesizing, and sharing insights on the role of Digital Learning Infrastructure (DLI) in furthering the unmatched success of students who attend HBCUs. This work, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will both elevate the innovative work happening on HBCU campuses and surface new models for improving the student outcomes at colleges and universities across the country.

HBCUs prove that institutions built with the Black student experience at the center – not the margins – can create environments where Black learners thrive. According to UNCF, HBCU’s represent just 3 percent of colleges and universities in the U.S. but produce 20 percent of Black graduates: 75 percent of Black PhDs, 85 percent of Black MDs, and 50 percent of Black attorneys. And it goes deeper than degree completion. Black graduates from HBCUs report higher rates of well-being across financial, social, and personal indicators compared to their non-HBCU peers. These results highlight the unique perspective and innovations – in the face of systemic inequities – that make HBCUs a critical voice on the future of higher education.

CCA will work with a select group of HBCUs through an equity-centered co-design process to better understand their unique approach – the policies, perspectives, and practices that cultivate student success. As colleges transition to more remote and hybrid learning offerings, this research project will look specifically at how the unique culture and mission of HBCU’s can inform the way technology contributes to the disproportionate success of Black learners at HBCUs. In addition to technology that enhances the classroom experience, CCA and its partners will look at the role of technology and culturally sustaining practices across the student experience—providing purpose, momentum, structure and support towards a degree.

“I’m thrilled to see HBCUs, who have long deserved broader recognition for their contributions to postsecondary success, at the center of a national conversation about how digital learning infrastructure can support redesigning higher education to be a more effective engine of equity, prosperity and hope,” said Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of CCA. “Given CCA’s long commitment to systemic reform, our team – many of whom are HBCU alumni or have worked at minority serving institutions – are honored to steward this important exploration of what makes these institutions so effective.”

CCA is inviting HBCUs interested in participating to apply to be one of 5-6 institutions who will share $1.5 million in total grant funding. As partners in this work, selected HBCUs will co-design a collaborative research process to surface insights from their institution as well as their peers. To support this effort, CCA will also convene an advisory committee of institutional, technology, and subject-matter experts, including leaders from other minority serving institutions. This initiative will also share learnings with similar projects and investments happening at the intersection of educational equity and innovation. Applications are open through November 12, 2021 at 5pm ET, and interested applicants are invited to join an informational webinar on November 3, 2021 at 1:00 pm ET. More information on this project, including the process for getting involved, can be found at

About Complete College America

Established in 2009, Complete College America is a bold national advocate for dramatically increasing college completion rates and closing equity gaps by working with states, systems, institutions, and partners to scale highly effective structural reforms and promote policies that improve student success. CCA envisions a nation where all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or familial educational achievement have equal opportunities to access and complete a college education or credential of value because postsecondary institutions, policy makers, and systems of higher education welcome, invest in, and support these students through and to an on-time completion. Learn more at 


Media Contact

Melanie Harris
Strategy Director at CCA