Facts and Questions

What does UNCF do? Why is it important to support UNCF-member historically black colleges and universities? Does UNCF provide internships? Why do we need more college graduates? What are the results of my investment in UNCF? These are just some of the frequently asked questions UNCF addresses.

Download UNCF FAQs or read them here.



What does UNCF do? 

UNCF (the United Negro College Fund) invests in better futures for students, communities and the nation by helping African Americans and other students of color go to and through college so they can compete for the best jobs in the 21st-century economy. In pursuit of its mission, UNCF: 

  • Awards more than 10,000 scholarships under 400 programs each year to help students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities attend college, earn their degrees and launch their careers. 
  • Gives its 37 member historically black colleges and universities financial support so they can keep their academic programs strong and their tuition affordable and give their 55,000 students the education the economy requires. 
  • Advocates for the importance of college education and college readiness. 

What is the significance of “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in”®
UNCF’s universally recognized motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,”® declares the foundation of UNCF’s commitment to the importance of giving all Americans the opportunity for a college education: the conviction that our young minds are our most precious resource. The recently expanded version, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in”®, underscores that helping students go to and through college is not only the right thing to do, but is also an investment in the economic and social future of families, communities and the country. The support that UNCF receives from individuals, corporations and foundations is the nation’s investment. The 60,000 students who attend college at UNCF-member institutions and with UNCF scholarships, and the 8,000 who graduate each year, are the return on that investment. They are our dividends. 

Why is it important to support UNCF-member historically black colleges and universities? 
At a time when a college education is the prerequisite for entry into the economy’s best and fastest-growing jobs and career paths, research from UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute shows that HBCUs out-perform non-HBCUs by 14 percentage points at graduating students from low-income, African American families. Research also shows that UNCF-member HBCUs offer lower tuition—an average of 26 percent lower—than comparable institutions. With these advantages, it’s not surprising that more students graduate from UNCF-member HBCUs today than in 1972, the first year of “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” 

Do students have to attend a UNCF-member college to receive financial support? 
No. UNCF provides support to students at more than 1,100 colleges across the country—including elite private colleges, flagship state universities and historically black colleges and universities. 

Does UNCF help only African Americans?
Not at all. UNCF’s member colleges and universities admit students without reference to race or ethnicity. UNCF’s largest scholarship program, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, supports Hispanic American, Asian/Pacific American and Native American students as well as African Americans.

What is UNCF’s Gates Millennium Scholars Program, and how does it help students get the support they need to get to and through college?
Funded by a $1.6 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UNCF Gates Millennium Scholars Program (GMS) is a 20-year initiative that demonstrates that students of color can not only compete but excel in education and in life if they are given an equal place at the starting line. By providing low-income students of color with the financial, academic and social support that college students from higher-income families take for granted, GMS has achieved a graduation rate of nearly 90 percent, substantially higher than the national six-year graduation rate of 59 percent and comparable to the rates for students from higher income families. 

Does UNCF provide internships?
Yes. Dozens of UNCF programs offer the opportunity to supplement classroom learning with paid, hands-on experience in professions they may be considering. The UNCF/Merck Science Initiative, for example, offers internships with the global pharmaceutical corporation. UNCF Gateway to Leadership internships offer experiences in the financial services industry. And the UNCF/Walton K-12 Education Reform Fellowship Program is a leadership and talent-development initiative aimed at building a robust pipeline of high-achieving African Americans engaged in education reform.

Learn about out scholarships and internships.

See our impact 


Why do we need more college graduates?
The workforce is changing. There was a time when a high school diploma and a good work ethic qualified a worker for a good job. But today almost all the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs require a college education, and employers need college-educated employees to compete in the global economy. And with the U.S. on track to become a “majority-minority” country (a country with a majority of people of color), many of the new college graduates the country needs will have to come from the ranks of African Americans and other Americans of color—exactly the young women and men so many of whom have graduated from UNCF HBCUs and with UNCF scholarships. 

At this point in our history, why does the U.S. still need an educational organization and programs targeted at African Americans and other students of color?
Much progress has been made since UNCF was founded in 1944 and especially since “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”® was created more than 40 years ago and helped to change the way Americans think about race and education. But the string of episodes from Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston and beyond testify to how far we still have to go to reach racial equality. Educational opportunity must be an important part of that journey. But due to the high cost of college and lower income levels for many African Americans, and the fact that African Americans disproportionately do not receive a high school education that adequately prepares them for college, African American rates of college attendance and graduation are still much lower than those of other groups. At a time when college opportunity is an indispensable part of our national quest for social and economic justice, the nation needs students to be able to go to and through college, and it needs to draw on the experience of HBCUs and UNCF in making that happen. 

What is UNCF An Evening of Stars®?
UNCF An Evening of Stars® is an annual TV program, produced by UNCF and broadcast across the country. It has combined performances by stars like Yolanda Adams, Toni Braxton, Babyface and Big Sean with the real-life stories of “Rising Star” UNCF students and UNCF scholarships presented by some of the hottest names in entertainment—including Usher, Kevin Hart and Pharrell. Go to the UNCF An Evening of Stars® Web site (UNCF.org/AEOS) to find out about this year’s program



The UNCF public service announcements (PSAs) I’ve seen on TV, in the newspaper and online look different than previous UNCF PSAs. UNCF’s motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”®, sounds different, too. What’s the story?

The new PSAs and the related tagline are part of a new campaign, one UNCF has named “Better Futures.” The idea behind “Better Futures” is that a contribution to UNCF is not only a well-deserved helping hand to students in need but also an investment in better futures for students and—through the career that students will launch after graduation and what they will contribute to the economy and the community—for all of us. 

The “Better Futures” PSAs and their real-life UNCF education success stories are designed to motivate people to Invest in Better Futures® for students by giving to UNCF and to also set an example: to lead other young men and women to aspire to go to and through college at UNCF-member colleges and universities, other HBCUs or other institutions of higher education. 



What are the results of my investment in UNCF?
The return on your investment in UNCF and Better Futures is measured in students graduating from college. More than 430,000 students have earned college degrees from UNCF-member HBCUs and with UNCF scholarships, a total that increases by more than 8,000 every year. Recent research by UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute highlights UNCF’s recipe for success: 

  • UNCF-member HBCUs out-perform non-HBCUs at graduating students from low-income families—the students the country most needs to go to and through college. 
  • UNCF-member colleges and universities are more affordable, with tuition levels that average 26 percent less than comparable institutions. 
  • African American recipients of UNCF scholarships have a higher graduation rate, 70 percent, than non-recipients. In fact, UNCF scholarship students graduate at nearly twice the rate of all African American students. That impact, extrapolated to all African American college students, would increase the annual number of African Americans earning college degrees by nearly 16,000 annually. 

Those college graduates are the return on your investment in UNCF and better futures. They are your dividends. 


I know students who encounter financial emergencies in the middle of the academic year, between the times scholarships are awarded. What can I do to help?
For low-income families—like the 92 percent of UNCF students who qualify for financial aid—financial emergencies are always just around the corner: a parent’s layoff or pay cut, an eliminated after-school job. Emergencies can put college education at risk. Students may have to drop out. Seniors may not be able to graduate. And once students leave before graduating, they are apt never to return. 

UNCF created the Campaign for Emergency Student Aid (CESA) precisely for students facing these emergencies. Since CESA’s founding in 2009, more than 12,000 CESA scholarships, with a value of more than $24 million, have been awarded—thousands of students, our next generation of college-educated professionals and civic leaders, enabled to stay in college to pursue and complete their degrees. 

How can I volunteer to help?
UNCF offices across the country work all year long helping students go to and through college by hosting galas, walkathons and other fundraising events, and those same offices work in the local community to make sure students get the education they need to go to college and graduate. If you want to help, go to UNCF.org and click on the office closest to you to get a phone number you can call to find out about volunteer opportunities.