Fidelity pledges $250 million to support minority students, address equity gaps in education

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Fidelity pledges millions to support minority students
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Fidelity is partnering with the United Negro College Fund to select students to receive the funds, with hopes of addressing equity gaps in access to education.

Fidelity Investments will commit $250 million to a new education initiative to support up to 50,000 underserved minority students with scholarships and mentorship programs in the next five years.

The financial institution, which has an office in Durham, is using the Triangle as one of its launching points for this new initiative.

Fidelity is partnering with the United Negro College Fund to select students to receive the funds, with hopes of addressing equity gaps in access to education.

"There has been a trend in the wrong direction that many of these young people have been so economically hard-pressed that they have had to defer or even not attend college," said Dr. Michael Lomax, President of the United Negro College Fund.

The Education Data Initiative found that college attendance amongst Black students decreased by more than 13% between 2010 and 2020, following years of increases.

"It's very expensive to go to college. And first-generation, low-income students of color oftentimes have to balance the desire to go to college and get a degree that will enable them to learn more and to develop more family resources with the immediate need to be the breadwinner in the family," said Lomax.

The National Center for Education Statistics found white students have average monthly student loan debts lower than Black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian counterparts.

"Black students, it's one in five that don't complete their college education that they start. (For) Latinx (students), it's almost a third. And we want to fix that," said Leslie Walden, Vice President of Regional Public Affairs at Fidelity.

Walden explained the program extends past funding and into networking.

"It's a Fidelity mentor to offer career mentoring, to offer financial education. Managing your money and building generational wealth," said Walden.

The financial company has previously worked with Made in Durham, which earlier launched the B.U.L.L.S. Initiative, a program with a similar goal.

"We work specifically with communities of color, young students between the ages of 18-25, to get them the opportunity to go to Durham Tech and get a certification or a biotechnology industry sector that will get them the opportunity for an entry-level position that pays them $20-25 an hour," said Executive Director Casey Steinbacher.

Steinbacher believes Fidelity's announcement will expand on the opportunities provided in B.U.L.L.S.

"Our program only takes them through that 16-week certification. What Fidelity's program will allow them to do is actually pursue that two-year degree at Durham Tech or a four-year degree," said Steinbacher.

This scholarship program is open to students who have a GPA higher than 2.5, a group that Dr. Lomax referred to as the "Mighty Middle."

"So often, it is on merit. And merit is defined as elite performance academically. And it's not a combination of need and demonstrated commitment to pursuing an education, which may not mean that you have a 4.0 (GPA)," said Lomax.

He believes making the scholarships - which are available in full and partial amounts - recognizes the existing challenges that students can face.

"The students that aren't really getting the opportunities are the good students. The ones that are making satisfactory academic progress in high school, but maybe they have to work a job. Maybe they're a breadwinner of their family," Lomax said.

"It's not just scholarships. It's mentoring, it's getting them on a career pathway. It's teaching them how to manage their money. The idea is to graduate or get that certificate debt-free on the path to a good job," Walden explained.

"It not only allows them to see that there is an opportunity, it sees them that they matter enough to provide some sort of equitable beginning to take this journey that they never thought possible. I think the other thing is that Fidelity sees this as a real opportunity for an incredibly talented workforce," added Steinbacher.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

WATCH: The Racial Divide: Inequity in Education *(Special is from 2020)