Skip navigation links

July 9, 2024

Building access through collaboration with HBCUs

Land-grant alum leaders at Michigan State reflect on the importance of broadening access and opportunity

Quentin TylerQuentin R. Tyler, Ph.D., attended the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, earning a bachelor’s in 2002, a master’s in 2005 and a doctorate in 2010, which prepared him to be a land-grant leader at Michigan State University.

Jabbar BennettMSU Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D., is an undergraduate alumnus of North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University, the largest historically Black land-grant institution in the United States.

Currently, as leaders in a founding land-grant university, Tyler and Bennett reflect on the importance of expanding access to education.

In pursuit of a more equitable and inclusive educational landscape, there is a pressing need for predominately white land-grant institutions to embrace a significant responsibility: partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. This partnership not only addresses the persistent issue of underfunding and limited resources that HBCUs face but also signifies a commitment to greater accessibility to higher education for all Americans.

The responsibility of land-grant universities

The significance of this collaboration begins with recognizing the pivotal role that HBCUs play in expanding access to higher education for underrepresented communities, particularly Black students. These institutions empower individuals who have historically been denied opportunities in higher education and society more broadly.

The mission of predominantly Black institutions must not change; they are built to meet the needs of the students they’re serving, strengthened by inclusion, with a distinctive experience and differentiated purpose-built path. Black land-grant universities are incredible tools to address our most pressing challenges and to achieve aspirations. Yet, with the threat of diminishing student diversity in institutions during times of social unrest, political division and economic contraction, we also risk losing pathways for students who are typically left behind. 

Creating a more accessible educational environment in the U.S. is not simply a commendable goal; it is an urgent imperative. With the nation fast approaching a minority-majority population by 2045, the need to address issues of underrepresentation and educational inequality is becoming increasingly apparent. Our higher education institutions, especially the predominately white land-grant universities, must lead in eliminating barriers, serving as models for other institutions to follow.

The MSU-North Carolina A&T partnership

One example of this commitment to collaboration is the ongoing partnership between Michigan State University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, or North Carolina A&T, one of the nation’s top Black doctoral degree-granting institutions in science and engineering that is also one of 16 other HBCUs that have been underfunded by $2 billion between 1987 to 2020. The outreach endeavors between MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, or CANR, and North Carolina A&T exemplify the spirit of cooperation that can lead to expanded outcomes.

These visits featured conversations with leaders, faculty, researchers and graduate students from CANR and MSU Extension, the educational outreach program serving all of Michigan, providing a comprehensive view of MSU’s agriculture and natural resources programs. This cross-pollination of ideas led to new student opportunities between the two land-grant institutions. In 2023, MSU Extension hosted four interns from North Carolina A&T as part of a developing intern exchange program.

The impact of such partnerships is both profound and quantifiable. For instance, North Carolina A&T faculty have emphasized that partnering with MSU has enabled them to address community challenges more effectively. This collaboration has not only enriched the educational experiences of the students but has also enhanced the research and outreach capabilities of both institutions. For example, during the MSU trip, more than a dozen presenters from both schools showcased advancements in agricultural education, research and outreach, relating that information to serving diverse communities.

MSU and Spelman College: A model for diversity in data science

Another example of the proactive role that land-grant universities can play in promoting diversity is the partnership between MSU and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, a historically Black liberal arts college for women. These institutions have joined forces to establish a new educational pathway for diversifying data science, one of the fastest-growing fields in the country. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation will create more than 11 million data science jobs by 2026. This partnership, supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Science Foundation, aims to bridge the diversity gap in this field. It introduces a “3+2” program in which students at Spelman complete a three-year bachelor’s program in a STEM field that includes unique training to prepare them for MSU’s two-year master’s program in data science, shortening the overall cost and time needed to complete two degrees.

Today, Black land grants enroll a higher percentage of Black and low-income students than their traditionally white counterparts, and they play a crucial role in diversifying science, engineering and agriculture workforces.

This collaborative effort directly addresses the diversity and inclusion challenges within data science. Statistics show that only about 3% of the jobs in this rapidly growing sector are held by women of color. By promoting diversity in data science, this partnership is increasing the awareness and accessibility of this high-demand field and addressing the underrepresentation of diverse women within it.

In another 3+2 program, MSU and North Carolina Central University, or NCCU, have partnered through an agreement that aims to benefit students pursuing a bachelor of science in chemistry from NCCU who may then be admitted to the master’s in packaging program from MSU, the country’s top-ranked program. The partnership includes recruitment, advising and communication between the institutions, involving specific departments and units. The agreement will be effective for five years, supporting diversity in education and the packaging profession.

The path forward for more inclusive educational outcomes

In an era where the U.S. is becoming a racial and ethnic majority-minority population, the responsibility falls upon predominately white land-grant institutions to not only recognize the critical role of HBCUs but to actively engage in partnerships that remove barriers to higher education. By embracing this responsibility, land-grant universities can set a powerful example for higher education institutions nationwide, building a brighter, more beneficial future for all.

While our focus has been primarily on the partnership between land-grant institutions and HBCUs, it’s vital to recognize that this commitment to accessibility should extend to Minority- Serving Institutions, including Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Tribal Colleges and Universities. These institutions are critical in expanding access to higher education and research opportunities for Hispanic/Latinx and Native and Indigenous communities.

Together, as a nation, we can create more attainable educational outcomes through partnerships, equitable state funding and federal support, ensuring that every student, regardless of their background, can thrive and succeed in and beyond the educational landscape.


By: Quentin Tyler and Jabbar Bennett

Media Contacts


more content from this collection

Diversity and belonging