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JFF Calls for Accelerating Social Capital for Black Learners and Workers

By Sharla Hooper

JFF’s social capital framework provides practical social capital strategies for employers and higher education institutions to promote Black economic advancement

Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems, today released an action-based framework that addresses systemic barriers in education and workforce development, and outlines strategies for colleges and employers to support career advancement for Black learners and workers by building professional social capital.

In partnership with the University of Phoenix,  JFF’s Center for Racial Economic Equity’s framework, “Professional Social Capital: A Key to Black Economic Advancement,” challenges practitioners to increase their advocacy and support for Black learners and workers by helping them map education and career trajectories, and leverage and activate their social capital—connections, networks, and resources which are crucial to advancing educational and economic advancement.

“Many education and workplace strategies for Black learners and workers only focus on credential attainment, but this is not enough to solve education and economic disparities, as Black Americans continue to have less systemic access to build and maintain professional social capital,” said JFF Vice President Michael Collins, leader of JFF’s Center for Racial Economic Equity. “This framework offers tangible recommendations to postsecondary institutions and employers to ensure Black Americans have the necessary tools and resources to thrive in higher education and throughout their career.”

Professional social capital helps people understand, access, and navigate educational systems and the labor market and is a proven accelerant to learner and worker success. In today’s society, only 5% of Black employees reported having a sponsor at work, compared to 20% of their white counterparts, and Black managers are 65% more likely to progress in their careers with a sponsor.

“It is critical for us to work together to address inequities in the workforce and in education,” states Chris Lynne, president of University of Phoenix. “This framework for building social capital is a meaningful mechanism to reduce those inequities and build a more inclusive workspace and learning environment.”  

Among the strategies, the framework suggests implementing peer mentoring, paid work-based learning, building partnerships for intentional and inclusive hiring, and elevating career services and DEIB efforts to be organizational priorities.

Kimberly Underwood, Ph.D., MBA, is chair of the University of Phoenix’s Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research (CWDIR) in the College of Doctoral Studies and serves on the University of Phoenix President’s Advisory Council for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. “Professional social capital can be built in higher education as well as in the workplace,” says Underwood. “Higher education has a responsibility to foster social capital, and the framework we’ve developed provides actionable steps that Black learners and workers across industries and education models can use to help with their success.”

While Black American have recently made modest job gains, their rate of unemployment has historically been twice as high as for white Americans, signaling the urgent need for institutions and employers to substantial increase efforts to prepare Black learners and workers for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. 


About JFF: Jobs for the Future (JFF) drives transformation of the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all.

About JFF’s Center for Racial Economic Equity:

The JFF Center for Racial Economic Equity accelerates Black economic advancement by identifying solutions and best practices to disrupt occupational segregation and eradicate the Black-white wealth gap. For more information, visit

About University of Phoenix:

University of Phoenix is continually innovating to help working adults enhance their careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, interactive learning, and Career Services for Life® help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit

About University of Phoenix Career Institute®:

University of Phoenix Career Institute® was founded to address broad, persistent and systemic barriers to career advancement through research-based solutions and impactful partnerships that break down barriers Americans face in their careers, and its inaugural 2021 Career Optimism Index® study found that nearly half of American workers do not have someone in their professional life who advocates for them. These findings provided the impetus for the University’s partnership with JFF to address inequities in social capital for Black workers and learners.