The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) announced a new $150 million grant program to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) achieve compliance with Federal and state cybersecurity regulations, among other IT modernization initiatives.

SFI has partnered with Cisco and AVC Technologies on the new program. Cisco has committed $100 million in networking, security, and collaboration technologies to the effort, and Cisco and AVC Technologies will provide ongoing technical support.

“We are thrilled to welcome Cisco and AVC Technologies as strategic partners for SFI in addressing the digital divide faced by our HBCUs,” said Robert F. Smith, chairman of SFI.

SFI is also using funding from Cisco to partner with the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to assist HBCUs in fortify their underlying infrastructure against cyber threats. AVC Technologies said it will work directly with HBCUs to address both the gaps between their existing infrastructure and the requirements laid out by the Department of Education Federal Student Aid (FSA). After identifying the gaps, AVC Technologies will install the Cisco-provided solutions and provide one year of support following installation at no cost. SFI will provide end-to-end project integration and management during the transition.

“We are grateful to the executive leadership teams … who have worked with our team over the past year to design a secure infrastructure to foster innovation and business growth within these communities,” added Mark A. Brown, executive director of SFI. “Collectively addressing the challenges faced by HBCUs, this strategic partnership will enable expanded opportunities and address the issues that affect these institutions which have served as a beacon of hope for many students seeking a higher education.”

HBCU students will be able to participate in the modernization efforts via internships offered by Cisco and AVC Technologies. Regarding the ability for students to participate, Keith B. Shoates, chief operating officer of SFI, said, “students will obtain practical hands-on experience, training, and certifications in the technologies of the future; and we’ll build a qualified pipeline of diverse talent from HBCUs.”

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