Minority-Serving Schools Gain Victory in Science Consolidation Battle

A U.S. Senate panel has rejected White House plans to consolidate federal science programs for minority-serving colleges and universities, noting that these postsecondary institutions reap significant gains under the existing system.

“One size will not fit all,” the Senate Appropriations Committee said in outlining its opposition to the Obama administration plan to merge the programs into a larger fund and then allow participation by majority white institutions. Instead, the panel voted to continue existing funding streams for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct 1.

In its fiscal 2011 budget plan, the National Science Foundation proposed consolidating three programs funded at $90 million annually:

 

n      The Historically Black College and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP);

n      The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation; and

n      The Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (T-CUP).

In place of these programs, the plan would create a new authority through which majority-White institutions also could apply for funds in partnership with MSIs. NSF said it would increase funding for the new program and also bring Hispanic-serving institutions into the mix as well.

But the plan has faced significant opposition in the MSI community. HBCUs voiced strong criticism of the idea, and Hispanic-serving institutions said they had expected to get their own pot of money similar to HBCUs and tribal colleges.

“The vote is a clear indication that the minority-serving institution community has been heard,” Edith Bartley, government affairs director at the United Negro College Fund, told Diverse.

In rejecting the consolidation, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommends continued funding for HBCU-UP at $32 million, the Stokes program at $44.7 million and T-CUP at $14 million.

“These three programs each have different purposes and engage students and colleges and universities in a different manner,” the committee said.

In addition, it says, any funds remaining for undergraduate or graduate student support should go to HSIs.

The vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee is a blow to consolidation plans since this panel recommends federal funding for hundreds of federal education programs. The House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee has not yet released its recommendations. However, the House Science and Technology Committee also has recommended that current programs remain intact.

“It’s good news to see strong support in the House and Senate,” Bartley said.

A spokesman for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) also welcomed the action.

“Any consolidation that focuses only on minority-serving programs is going to be met with opposition,” said Dr. Daryl Chubin, director of AAAS’ Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity.

The nation has not made enough progress to increase minority participation in STEM fields, he said. “But that responsibility doesn’t just fall on these three small programs.”

Allowing large majority-White institutions to apply for funds originally earmarked for MSIs is likely to be counterproductive, he said. “If you award the funding to major research institutions, minority-serving institutions will end up on the short end,” he told Diverse.

Instead of consolidation, he said, NSF should encourage greater participation on minority STEM issues by the foundation’s many large directorates.

NSF officials did not respond to phone calls Tuesday.