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Minority-Serving Institutions Scrambling For Quick Funds

Minority-Serving Institutions Scrambling For Quick Funds
HSIs look for increased federal funding through NSF and farm bills.
By Charles Dervarics

With Congress just beginning to grapple with the massive Higher Education Act, Hispanic-serving institutions are seeking faster action from lawmakers on a series of other bills that may deliver more funds to HSIs and other minority-serving colleges.

High on this list is a bill to renew and expand programs at the National Science Foundation, where colleges want more grant funding to prepare students in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. Minority students are currently vastly underrepresented in those fields.
In early May, the full House of Representatives approved a bill with new grants to HSIs to improve STEM programs and serve more students. Farm and immigration bills are other avenues where HSIs are asking Congress to do more for Hispanic students.

“Our colleges are really trying to build capacity in STEM areas,” says Rosa Garcia, the government relations director for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Under the proposed NSF bill, the agency’s director would provide competitive, merit-based grants to HSIs so they can broaden math, science and engineering programs.
The HSI provision of the NSF Authorization Act sailed through the House with broad bipartisan support.

“The NSF already supports similar programs for historically Black colleges and universities and tribal colleges, and this amendment will allow Hispanic-serving institutions to better serve our future leaders and scientists,” said U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., during House debate.

“This measure corrects a long-standing inequality at the National Science Foundation,” added U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.

An NSF bill approved by Congress in 2002 gave the agency’s director the discretion to provide funds to minority-serving institutions, says Garcia. But while the agency has initiatives for HBCUs and tribal colleges, it has yet to act in a similar way for HSIs.

Individual HSIs also say the provision will have a major impact on their programming. “It’s important that we increase training in science, technology, engineering and math-related activities so that we can stay competitive in the job market,” says Dr. Raul Rodriguez, president of San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Calif.

If approved by the Senate and then by President Bush, the plan would promote faculty development, stipends for undergraduate students in research and improvements in STEM courses and curriculum.

It is not yet known how much funding HSIs would receive or how many colleges would receive support, Garcia says.

The provision would not provide additional funds to NSF but would encourage them to make merit-based grants using existing dollars.

While some details remain unclear, Garcia says HACU strongly supports the concept. “We’re concerned that we’re not well represented in STEM fields,” she says. HSIs also are looking to gain federal funds through the 2007 Farm Bill, Congress’ first major legislation on this front in several years.

HACU is seeking $40 million for an educational grants program for HSIs to promote research, scholarships and improved nutrition in high-poverty areas. One HACU recommendation is for an education grant program through which HSIs would conduct research in nutrition and food science.

According to Garcia, 87 HSIs have agriculture study programs, and many serve rural, isolated populations. “It’s our hope to allow smaller colleges to compete for these research and education funds,” she says.

House and Senate panels are expected to move ahead with farm bill and agriculture funding bills this summer.

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