May 14, 2014

Bill Would Create New Grants to Support Innovation at HBCUs

By Mark Keierleber  ( Shared by


A U.S. senator is preparing legislation that would create a competitive grant program to help spur innovation at historically black colleges and universities.

Sen. Kay R. Hagan, Democrat of North Carolina, announced her proposal to establish an HBCU Innovation Fund on Tuesday during a hearing by the Senate education committee on ways to strengthen minority-serving institutions, which include HBCUs. The hearing was convened in preparation for Congress’s next renewal of the Higher Education Act.

“Our success as a state and a nation depends on making sure all students reach their full potential,” Ms. Hagan said, “and that is why I’m committed to ensuring our HBCUs have the resources necessary to truly educate each and every student.”

Ms. Hagan’s bill would authorize a competitive grant program for HBCUs with two options: one-year planning grants and longer-term implementation grants. Planning grants would be awarded to help institutions design and develop innovations that would deal with specific student needs on their campuses. Implementation grants would be awarded for up to five years, conditional after three years of satisfactory progress, to help institutions reach specific outcomes articulated in their grant applications.

The grants could be used for programs with goals like improving student achievement, enhancing student-retention and program-completion rates, expanding the use of technology, and increasing student enrollment in the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Hannah Smith, a spokeswoman for Ms. Hagan, said the planning grants would be capped at $100,000 and the implementation grants would be capped at $10-million per institution. Institutions receiving an implementation grant would be required to secure a 15-percent match from an external source, and to conduct an independent evaluation to track their success against measures established in their application.

Serving Minority Populations

While HBCUs represent just 3 percent of the nation’s colleges, they enroll 9 percent of black undergraduates and produce 17 percent of all African-American bachelor’s-degree recipients. The economic downturn and budget constraints have disproportionately affected HBCUs in recent years.

During Tuesday’s hearing, five higher-education experts also offered testimony on the challenges that minority-serving institutions face and about programs that help facilitate student success.

The government recognizes a number of different categories of minority-serving institutions that enroll populations with significant percentages of students in minority groups, including African-Americans, American Indians, Hispanics, and Native American Pacific Islanders, among others. About 20 percent of all American undergraduates are enrolled at such institutions.

Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Penn Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, recommended that federal investments in such institutions focus on fund-raising infrastructure in order to ensure long-term stability “rather than short-term fixes.” Ms. Gasman also recommended that the institutions be required to collect data on student outcomes

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