President Biden’s ambitious agenda for higher education has met with disappointments as Congress turns it into legislation, with a strict budget forcing lower-than-expected funding levels for some of its provisions. Although the bill includes funding for historically black colleges and universities, advocates say it falls far short of what is needed.
In the current version of the budget reconciliation bill serving as the vehicle for Biden’s Build Back Better law, the HBCUs and other institutions serving minorities are expected to receive $ 27 billion in tuition grants, $ 1.45 billion for institutional assistance and $ 2 billion to improve research and development. Infrastructure. Meanwhile, Biden has proposed a total of $ 55 billion for HBCUs and other MSIs to modernize research infrastructure and create research incubators to improve STEM education.
“The number is just significantly lower than we expected,” said Paul Jones, president of Fort Valley State University and vice president of the Council of 1890 Presidents. “With institutions serving minorities and institutions serving Hispanics, it kind of brings us all together in this one area when we all have huge needs. “
The presidents and chancellors of the universities of 1890 – the HBCUs designated as land grant institutions by Congress – sent a letter to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, Democrat of Virginia, and Senate Speaker for Health, Education, Work and Pensions, Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, asking them to consider including additional funding for infrastructure for HBCUs in the package, as the institutions have historically been underfunded.
“Our universities have produced some of the greatest minds in the country and the funding offered would allow us to continue to produce academics,” the letter said. “We hope to be able to count on your support for this request by adding significant funding for our institutions through the process of budget reconciliation. Conversely, not including such investments would leave a significant void as Congress and the Biden-Harris administration seek to rebuild our nation’s public infrastructure. “
The universities of 1890 indicated their support for the design and funding included in the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act, a bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced in May that would establish a competitive grant program to fund the modernization of campus facilities in schools. Public and private HBCUs, new research equipment, better broadband access and the preservation of historic buildings. The financing of the budget reconciliation bill is heavily based on the IGNITE law.
The biggest champion of the legislation, Representative Alma Adams, a Democrat from North Carolina, sent a letter to her colleagues on Sunday expressing concerns about the way infrastructure funding has been structured in the Build Back Better Act. – first, that all MSIs will have to compete for the same amount of money, and second, this priority is given to institutions receiving less than $ 10 million per year in federal research dollars.
“This is contrary to President Biden’s own goals for HBCU and MSI funding, which state that” to ensure that funding is distributed more evenly among HBCUs, TCUs and MSIs, the Biden administration will require that grant programs Competitive universities compete against each other, for example, by ensuring that HBCUs only compete with HBCUs. ‘ If this language as it is written becomes law, it is correct to say that the HBCUs will only compete successfully for pennies on the dollar, ”Adams wrote, adding that while she appreciates the intention to allow colleges and universities with less research capacity to start their efforts, the legislation would in effect prevent R-2 HBCUs from becoming R-1 institutions by deprioritizing their grant applications.
Adams said she would not vote for the legislation as it currently exists because she believes it “will not serve the intended purpose.”
Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents public HBCUs, expressed similar concerns about the reconciliation bill in a statement after its release. He said the organization was “surprised and disappointed with” the level and allocation of infrastructure funding.
“Currently, the Reconciliation Bill proposes to allocate only $ 2 billion in infrastructure funding to HBCUs and minority aid institutions; a surprisingly small sum to account for a group of over 700 higher education institutions, ”said Williams. While we certainly do not object to MSIs receiving their own tranche of infrastructure funding, we strongly believe that it is not in the best interests of HBCUs to be forced to compete with MSIs that do not. have not had the substantial deferred maintenance expenses and basic infrastructure needs of HBCUs, and certainly have not experienced the vast legacy of underfunding that our institutions have encountered.
The UNCF, which represents private HBCUs, also called on lawmakers to make adjustments to the wording of the legislation so that the impact of the bill can be “truly transformational.”
An aide to the education and labor committee said Scott raised the concerns with House leaders, but did not say if any changes in the language will occur. Both houses of Congress are under pressure to keep spending levels low for most of Biden’s proposed initiatives to keep the package within its $ 3.5 trillion price tag.
“HBCUs are invaluable centers of opportunity, innovation and academic achievement for the Black community and for our entire nation and economy,” said a HELP committee aide. “Senator Murray is doing everything possible to help end racial inequalities in research and development by supporting these critical institutions.
The HBCUs have played a key role in solving the country’s first problems, from providing access to education for black and low-income students to helping underrepresented men and women. to enter the STEM realm, said Makola Abdullah, president of Virginia State University and chairman of the Council of Presidents from 1890. And new investment is needed to continue this mission.
“There are some really important issues of our present time that I think HBCUs can help address with the right amount of federal government investment – climate change, criminal justice reform, broadband access.” said Abdullah. “Our 1890 HBCUs are uniquely positioned to be able to help solve some of the nation’s problems, but due to historic underfunding our infrastructure is not where our talent is. If we can invest in our infrastructure, we can bring our talent to the equation and provide solutions to the nation. “