Tim Tai

On Monday, University President Peter Salovey  announced a fellowship dedicated to helping New Haven public high school students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The announcement marks the first update to a commitment made by Salovey over a year ago at the Yale and Slavery conference promising to connect Yale and New Haven with HBCUs. 

The Pennington Fellowship will be a competitive scholarship program which will send ten to twelve high school seniors to college each year at HBCUs across the nation — including Hampton University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University and Spelman College — a list which, according to three organizers of the Fellowship, will soon expand. The scholarship will amount to $20,000 per year to cover tuition and fees. 

Last year, Salovey promised to connect Yale with HBCUs after a University working group found that Yale coordinated with government officials to block the construction of a college for Black students in the city of New Haven in 1831. He did not set a date by which these commitments would be met.

“My guess is that many high school students in New Haven don’t consider [HBCUs] as options because they aren’t perceived as affordable by them,” Salovey said. “We want to change that.”

According to Salovey, the program is designed to facilitate the process by financially supporting both the HBCUs and the students who hope to attend them. While the Fellows will not have a formal affiliation to Yale, the scholarship will nevertheless be funded by the University.

But the inner workings of the Fellowship will be conducted by New Haven Promise, a college scholarship and career development program that supports students who attend New Haven public schools. Earlier this year, in a separate commitment, the University pledged to donate $5 million each year to continue funding New Haven Promise.

“The reason we asked [New Haven Promise] to do it is because this is what they do,” Salovey said. “They know how to reach out and advertise these opportunities to high school students in New Haven. They know how to provide assistance as New Haven high school students apply to college and apply for financial aid. They know how to evaluate applications so that the money goes to the students who can put it to the best use.”

Patricia Melton ’82, who runs New Haven Promise, told the News that the President’s office approached her office with interest in developing a scholarship program targeted toward HBCUs. 

The University looked at data collected by New Haven Promise on student-preferred HBCUs and completion rates, and “married those two things together and came up with a list,” Melton said.  That list was shared with HBCU representatives in administrator meetings that included New Haven Promise representatives.

Susan Gibbons, who serves as Chief of Staff to the President, explained that New Haven Promise played an important role in laying the groundwork for the partnership between Yale and the HBCUs.

Information about the New Haven Promise program was shared with HBCUs, Gibbons wrote in an email to the News. The University also shared data gathered by New Haven Promise administrators over the years to demonstrate “that there was real interest by New Haven students to attend HBCUs.”

HBCU administrators were enthusiastic about the idea, according to Salovey, and worked with Yale to make the Fellowship a possibility. David Thomas ’78 GRD ’86, who serves as President of Morehouse College and is a member of the Yale Corporation, told the News that he was looking forward to “welcoming Pennington Fellows to Morehouse and helping them thrive.”

“When we look at the history of this nation, we see that people of African descent have not had equal access to educational opportunities,” Thomas told the News. “Institutions of higher education must face the truth of our past and work together to fulfill our responsibilities to improve society today.”


What’s next?

Salovey emphasized that the University is adding, not diverting, funds from New Haven Promise to fund the program.

He added that the program was created by donations made specifically to the President’s discretionary fund, and that any additional expenses incurred by New Haven Promise will be covered by the University. The program will now be seeking applicants from New Haven to fill its first cohort of students.

“I am incredibly optimistic that all of that will go well,” Salovey said. “But I’m also realistic and know that we will learn some things that will help us further hone the program.”

Salovey noted that generally, when a program is announced, there are usually “some rough edges that need to be sanded down” — which can only be addressed once you get started.

But Melton believes New Haven Promise is “prepared for that.”

She said that given the experience and background of herself and her staff, they were ready to address any challenges that might come their way. Melton added that New Haven Promise would soon work closely with alumni chapters in Connecticut to get students “a pretty strong start” at their respective HBCU institution.

On the administration’s side, the work towards meeting last year’s commitments is not over.

Salovey told the News that the University would soon have new updates to the commitments he made at the Yale and Slavery conference next year. In addition, University Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kim Goff-Crews will share the progress over the Belonging at Yale initiative “in the coming days.”

“Rather than wait and announce them all at once, we would announce them on a more ongoing basis,” Salovey said. “So we thought it was time [to announce this program] given that we are in the application season for college next year.”

The first cohort of Pennington Fellows will begin their college studies in the fall of 2023.


William Porayouw covered Woodbridge Hall for the News and previously reported on international strategy at Yale. Originally from Redlands, California, he is an economics and global affairs major in Davenport College.