$90 million HBCU partnership aims to increase diversity in high finance

Students walkabout near the intersection of Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard and Chestnut Street SW on the main campus of Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta in this AJC file photo. Clark Atlanta, along with Spelman and Morehouse Colleges are partnering with three investment firms on a $90 million initiative to train more higher investment Black professionals. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
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Students walkabout near the intersection of Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard and Chestnut Street SW on the main campus of Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta in this AJC file photo. Clark Atlanta, along with Spelman and Morehouse Colleges are partnering with three investment firms on a $90 million initiative to train more higher investment Black professionals. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Three asset management and private equity firms are partnering with Atlanta’s historically Black colleges on a 10-year, $90 million effort to train and mentor students for careers in high-income fields where Black professionals are underrepresented, such as private equity, real estate investment trusts and hedge funds.

Atlanta Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler, executive chairman of Ares Management Corp., one of the firms in the initiative, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview Wednesday he’s been interested in finding ways to increase racial diversity in the alternative investment industry for a few years. The framework of the initiative began taking shape six months ago in conversations between the schools, Apollo Global Management, Inc. and Oaktree Capital Management, L.P., Ressler said.

On Tuesday, they announced the creation of “AltFinance: Investing in Black Futures.”

By some estimates, Black entrepreneurs receive only 1% of all private equity or venture capital backing. Ressler said he hopes the initiative will become a blueprint for other companies to partner with colleges and universities to support historically underrepresented students.

“We think it is a template that maybe other industries will build off of,” Ressler told the AJC.

Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler is all smiles taking in the scene at State Farm Arena while his team prepares to play the Philadelphia 76ers in game 3 of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Friday, Jun 11, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
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Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler is all smiles taking in the scene at State Farm Arena while his team prepares to play the Philadelphia 76ers in game 3 of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Friday, Jun 11, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The three Atlanta schools — Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse and Spelman colleges — have more than 8,000 students combined and have among the highest graduation rates of the nation’s HBCUs. Each has received several major donations and seed money from many of America’s largest companies for scholarships and projects over the last year in the wake of nationwide protests for social justice reforms. HBCUs, which enroll more lower-income students, have traditionally been underfunded by private companies and philanthropic foundations.

The three firms will each contribute $3 million per year for 10 years. The initiative will include a mentored fellowship program and a scholarship program.

Additionally, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the nation’s oldest collegiate school of business, will create a virtual institute to offer educational materials and tools necessary to excel in the alternative investment industry. The virtual institute will be open to interested students at all HBCUs. The Wharton School is led by Erika James, the former dean at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. She is the first Black dean of the Wharton School.

AltFinance is expected to launch by the first half of 2022.

Kat Jackson shows off her diploma after earning her international studies degree in 2020.  Spelman College holds commencement for the class of 2020 at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sunday, May 16, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Kat Jackson shows off her diploma after earning her international studies degree in 2020. Spelman College holds commencement for the class of 2020 at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Ressler said the Atlanta schools were a logical starting point for the effort. He hopes it will result in job growth by the thousands over the next 10 years.

“Our job is to level the playing field,” he said. “This is what we’re trying to do.”

The three companies have combined total assets under management greater than $800 billion. Presidents of the three schools said in statements the initiative can lead to important learning and career opportunities.

“Investing in the future of our students at Clark Atlanta University is paramount toward the creation of pipelines designed to increase diversity in all industries, specifically in the alternative investment industry,” Clark Atlanta President George T. French Jr. said.

President David A. Thomas speaks during the 137th commencement that celebrates the classes of 2020 and 2021 on the Century Campus at Morehouse College on Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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President David A. Thomas speaks during the 137th commencement that celebrates the classes of 2020 and 2021 on the Century Campus at Morehouse College on Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Morehouse President David A. Thomas said the partnership is needed to help its students and other HBCUs “to push the boundaries of the status quo and to create new avenues for equitable access to wealth-building vehicles, capital, private funds, and financial tools which will grow businesses and empower enterprising minds.”

“As the world begins to cautiously re-open, the alternative finance industry will play a significant role in how economies recover and thrive. The creativity and innovation that drive private equity and alternative-credit investing are the same characteristics present in our brilliant Spelman students,” said the college’s president, Mary Schmidt Campbell.