Fast Facts

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) educated more than 226,000 African-American students pursuing a college degree in 2017.

Among other things, the Small Business Administration works with colleges and universities to provide entrepreneurial training and counseling for students and adjacent communities. We looked at how SBA has worked with HBCUs.

SBA’s efforts included providing training and counseling through its Small Business Development Center program, with centers on at least 16 HBCU campuses. We made 3 recommendations, including that SBA collect additional information to measure the effectiveness of its efforts.

States with Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Map showing states with historically black colleges and universities

Map showing states with historically black colleges and universities

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Small Business Administration (SBA) worked with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to foster entrepreneurship, primarily through its Small Business Development Center program (which provides counseling and training), strategic alliance memorandums, and co-sponsorship agreements. Two HBCUs—Howard University and the University of the Virgin Islands—have hosted SBDC “lead centers” since the 1980s. SBA also signed at least 35 strategic alliance memorandums with HBCUs and at least 16 co-sponsorship agreements in 2013–2018.

States with Historically Black Colleges and Universities

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In 2018, SBA developed a plan to support HBCUs (including goals and measures) for the White House Initiative on HBCUs. However, SBA headquarters did not communicate this plan or its goals to key Small Business Development Centers or SBA district offices (those with HBCUs in their service areas). As a result, SBA may have missed opportunities to collaborate with HBCUs and help achieve the goals of its plan.

SBA has collected limited information about its programs and activities with HBCUs. SBA could not establish a baseline for performance measures developed in its 2018 plan because SBA district offices and the Small Business Development Centers are not required to collect or report information about their HBCU-related outreach and other activities. For example, while representatives from the nine Small Business Development Centers with whom GAO spoke said they conducted outreach to HBCUs, this information was not reported to SBA headquarters. Without collecting relevant information about its HBCU-related efforts, including data for performance measures, SBA cannot assess the extent or effectiveness of its efforts to support HBCUs.

Why GAO Did This Study

The 101 HBCUs play an important role in higher education and in their local and regional economies. Among African Americans who obtained a doctorate in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics in 2005–2010, more than one-third earned their undergraduate degrees from an HBCU. SBA is part of a long-standing White House initiative to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs, including their ability to access and participate in federal programs. SBA's mission includes business development, and SBA also works with colleges and universities to provide entrepreneurial training and counseling.

GAO was asked to review SBA's entrepreneurship-related efforts with HBCUs. This report examines (1) SBA efforts to foster entrepreneurship with HBCUs in recent years, (2) SBA's plans for the White House Initiative on HBCUs, and (3) the extent to which SBA collected information specific to HBCUs. GAO analyzed SBA information on HBCU participation in programs and activities for fostering entrepreneurship and reviewed related standard operating procedures. GAO also interviewed officials at SBA headquarters and eight SBA district offices, and representatives of nine Small Business Development Centers (selected for a high number of agreements with HBCUs and other factors).

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Recommendations

GAO is making three recommendations, including that SBA communicate planned efforts to support HBCUs to key Small Business Development Centers or district offices, and collect additional information on its efforts to support HBCUs. SBA agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Small Business Administration 1. The SBA Administrator should assign and document clear roles, responsibilities, and reporting lines for headquarters offices' implementation of SBA's plan for addressing the White House Initiative on HBCUs in a timely manner. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In June 2020, the Associate Administrator for SBA's Office of Entrepreneurial Development sent a letter to GAO describing the establishment of an HBCU Intra-Agency Working Group. The letter also stated that the agency had created a clear line of communication and reporting between SBA headquarters, SBA field offices, and resource partners, such as Small Business Development Centers. GAO requested documentation of these efforts. As of January 2021, SBA has not provided documentation of its efforts to address this recommendation.
Small Business Administration 2. The Associate Administrators of the Office of Entrepreneurial Development and Office of Field Operations should communicate planned efforts to support HBCUs, including expectations, goals, and related measures, to the district offices and Small Business Development Centers with HBCUs in their service areas. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In June 2020, the Associate Administrator of SBA's Office of Entrepreneurial Development stated in a letter to GAO that his office would address this recommendation by placing a requirement in resource partners' cooperative agreements to host at least one event with an HBCU and their local SBA District Office during 2020. GAO requested documentation of these efforts. As of January 2021, SBA had not provided documentation of its efforts to address this recommendation.
Small Business Administration 3. The Associate Administrator of the Office of Entrepreneurial Development should take and document steps to ensure that the office's reporting mechanisms collect the information needed to establish a baseline for, and also inform future monitoring and assessment of, efforts to support HBCUs. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In June 2020, the Associate Administrator of SBA's Office of Entrepreneurial Development stated in a letter to GAO that the agency's Office of Field Operations had sent guidance to SBA field offices on how to upload evidence of HBCU-related activities into a SharePoint system. GAO requested evidence of these efforts. As of January 2021, SBA had not provided documentation of its efforts to address this recommendation.

Full Report

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