WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today, Student Freedom Initiative and Cisco announced their expanded partnership to bolster cybersecurity infrastructure at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by adding three prominent Certified Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs)—Procellis Technology, Sology Solutions, and IP Consulting—to the cybersecurity implementation team.
This collaboration is a direct actionable response to the Department of Education/Federal Student Aid (FSA) guidance promulgated on December 18, 2020 for colleges and universities to comply with National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) 800 171 R2 requirements which set safeguards for protecting sensitive information transmitted online. The cybersecurity solutions and expansion of the implementation team are available at no cost to participating HBCUs due to the generosity of Cisco, whose initial financial support of $150 million was announced in May 2021.
Through this partnership, each MBE will play a critical role in accelerating the analysis of current security posture, preparing a gap analysis report, defining the bill of materials necessary to mitigate gaps, ordering and delivering required technical solutions, and optimizing systems throughout the twelve months of maintenance of the delivered technical solutions.
“Over the last two years, we’ve made steady progress building scalable systems, processes, governance and technology, and establishing strategic partnerships to increase the resilience of our institutions and the global competitiveness of our students,” said Mark Brown, Executive Director of Student Freedom Initiative. “We look forward to continuing to grow the number of participating institutions and adding other strategic partners committed to long-term, strategic partnerships with all Minority Serving Institutions to reduce the wealth gap through the lens of education.”
“When we think about HBCUs, aging infrastructure, and the need to be cybersecurity-compliant in our Cisco systems, we have the services and the products that can assist HBCUs,” said Saidah Grayson Dill, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Cisco. “We are leveraging our resources to help HBCUs protect against cyber threats while simultaneously helping to build the diverse IT workforce of the future.”
“Working with the Student Freedom Initiative gives us the perfect opportunity to put our commitment to social justice in action by supporting technological efforts for HBCUs in retention, enrollment, and attainment of students,” said Damian Young, Founder and CEO of Procellis Technology. “It’s been gratifying to see tangible improvements in the overall well-being of the HBCUs we’ve worked with, and we look forward to supporting SFI as we continue our relationship.”
“Sology Solutions is proud to work with Student Freedom Initiative who has a shared vision to close the digital equity gap through the provision of broadband, training, and economic development,” said Ed Christmas, Founder and Managing Principal of Sology Solutions. “Our work to drive technological excellence and IT modernization at HBCUs will have a direct impact and bring about real change in underserved communities.”
“It is an honor to partner with Student Freedom Initiative to ensure HBCUs and their students have a secure and compliant cybersecurity solution that will allow the universities to focus on expanding enrollment, both in person as well as remotely, and increase their capacity for teaching and research,” said Milton Moore, Founder and CEO of IP Consulting. “HBCU students deserve the best education and the best technology, and we are thrilled to assist in that mission.”
In direct support of Student Freedom Initiative’s vision to reduce the wealth gap through the lens of education, Cisco has also expanded its philanthropy by providing access to the Cisco Networking Academy and Talent Bridge. Students participating in these offerings will have the opportunity to obtain professional certifications in cybersecurity and job placement support. It is estimated there will be a 33% growth in cybersecurity-related jobs through 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and an average salary of $79,000 for those with relevant security certifications.
Cisco Networking Academy is celebrating its 25th anniversary and continues to be one of the longest-standing IT skills-to-jobs programs in the world. The program provides high-quality IT and cybersecurity courses, simulation software, and hands-on practice opportunities via a learning platform to support instructors and engage learners in 190 countries. To date, over 17.5 million global learners have taken Cisco Networking Academy courses to gain digital skills, and 95% of students that have taken Cisco certification-aligned courses have attributed obtaining a job or education opportunity to Cisco Networking Academy.
Cisco’s Network Academy certifications are an investment of time and resources for HBCU students and staff. IT certifications can differentiate HBCU students from other professionals in their career field, which is particularly important in today’s competitive marketplace. Statistics captured in 2021 show how individuals with certifications report salaries that are higher than those who are not certified.
About Student Freedom Initiative
A single-purpose nonprofit organization, Student Freedom Initiative aims to reduce the wealth gap through the lens of education. This is achieved by providing a catalyst for freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (“MSIs”) by increasing their social and economic mobility using a student-centric, evidence-based, holistic, and collaborative approach. Initially focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Student Freedom Initiative enables mobility through four transformational components: (1) Student Freedom Fund as a private education loan alternative to Parent PLUS loans, (2) Internships and industry-driven certifications, (3) Comprehensive Supports, and (4) Targeted MSI Capacity Building (e.g., access to affordable broadband, strengthening endowment governance and risk-adjusted returns, workforce development in clean energy). Student Freedom Initiative collaborates with community-based organizations, businesses, and governmental entities through public-private partnerships to make sustainable, systemic changes to support the entire MSI ecosystem.
To date, the Student Freedom Initiative has received generous contributions from Robert F. Smith, Fund 2 Foundation, Cisco, Jane Street, Prudential, First Republic, and the Walmart Foundation. The program has also been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education. Our ability to provide support to MSI students is based on the continued financial support of these donors and others interested in supporting our mission.