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In Tough Economy, MSIs Win Funding Increases

Several minority-serving institutions receive much-needed earmarks.

Historic St. Agnes Hospital at Saint Augustine’s College is set to receive $285,000 in restoration funds from the omibus bill.

With Congress completing work on a $ 410 billion omnibus spending bill, minority-serving institutions can point to some tangible funding gains in the first months of 2009 with the possibility of more gains ahead.

From earmarks for individual colleges to little-noticed provisions of the economic stimulus package, MSIs have realized gains that may help cushion the effects of the ongoing economic downturn. The stimulus package, for example, includes $15 million for the U.S. Department of the Interior to support historic preservation at historically Black colleges and universities.

HBCUs have $700 million in historic preservation needs, says Edith Bartley, government affairs director at the United Negro College Fund. She notes, “We’re thrilled with this investment. It’s a step in the right direction.”

By clearing the omnibus bill and getting President Barack Obama’s signature, Congress ensured that federal education programs will receive funding for the remainder of the 2009 federal fiscal year, which ends in September. That bill rejected cuts for HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges proposed by the Bush administration before it left office.

As a result, the omnibus bill has $238 million for HBCUs, $94 million for HSIs and $23 million for tribal colleges. That measure also provides an extra $20 million for TRIO programs, an additional $10 million for GEAR UP and nearly $600 million for the K-12 Title I education program.

In addition, it protects another need-based aid program, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, from possible elimination. Instead of zero funding, as proposed by the Bush White House, the omnibus provides $757 million in new funding.

Elsewhere in the large omnibus bill, HBCUs would receive $31.5 million and tribal institutions $13.5 million from the National Science Foundation.

The bill would also provide substantial funding to colleges and universities via earmarks, or narrow funding requests from members of Congress. Sometimes called pork-barrel spending, these provisions had delayed consideration of the bill in the House and Senate. President Obama also has signaled a goal to reduce such earmarks.

In a challenging economic environment, however, these earmarks will provide needed funding to many colleges and universities. Among the winners is Saint Augustine’s College, an HBCU in Raleigh, N.C. The omnibus bill includes $285,000 to restore historic St. Agnes Hospital to serve as home for an African-American health disparities institute at the college.

The plan calls for improvements to the former hospital, which opened in 1896 as a training school for Black nurses. For a time, the college said, it served as the only health care facility for African-Americans between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, La.

“This historic landmark represents a legacy of health care service that deserves continuation into the next century and beyond,” says Dr. Dianne Boardley Suber, Saint Augustine’s president, in welcoming the funds. Other recipients of funds include:

• College of Menominee Nation, Kenosha, Wis., $86,000 for equipment;

• Hampton University, $571,000 for a cancer treatment initiative, equipment and work force development;

• California State University-Fullerton, $238,000 for a math science project, $238,000 for a Vietnamese language project and $190,000 for a project targeting obesity;

• University of New Mexico, $190,000 for an American Indian Language Policy Research and Training Center; and

• Savannah State University, $450,000 for a Marine Sciences Center.

Colleges pursue these earmarks on their own. “We don’t go after earmarks,” UNCF’s Bartley says, adding that these are decisions made by individual institutions.

But MSIs collectively are seeking additional federal resources for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins in October. While President Obama has outlined the general framework of his first education budget, line-byline details are not expected until April. As a result, colleges have more time to make their case for more financial support.

“We’re at a crucial time right now,” Bartley tells Diverse. She notes that UNCF is seeking “significant” increases for the Title III program over the next three years. By outlining priorities that include education, technology and energy, Obama has an agenda that mirrors those of MSIs, she says.

“We know there is a premium placed on education and energy efficiency,” Bartley says. “We cannot afford to let one sector of higher education lag behind.”

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