Nearly three months into the federal fiscal year, Congress and President Barack Obama reached an agreement on a 2010 education spending bill that will increase funds for minority-serving institutions and student financial aid with the possibility of more gains ahead.
The bill approved in December would provide moderate to large increases for the Pell Grant program as well as federal programs for minority-serving colleges and universities. Hispanic leaders in particular were pleased with a 26 percent increase in the Hispanic Serving Institutions program, bringing total funding to $117 million. In addition, Congress provided $10.5 million for HSIs with graduate programs.
The funding “represents a major victory for HSIs,” said Dr. Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
In the same bill, which funded many other federal departments, HSIs would receive $6.25 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support community-development programs.
HSIs also stand to receive more than $9 million from a separate Agriculture Department funding bill for fiscal 2010. That figure — a 50 percent increase from past funding — reflects implementation of several provisions from a recent farm bill that had provisions friendly to HSIs.
Historically Black colleges and universities also will gain increases in the education bill. Funding for the Title III HBCU program will increase by $28 million, to $266 million, while HBCU graduate institutions will receive $61 million, up $2 million.
HBCUs will get another $9.7 million from the housing bill for community-development programs.
“We’ve moved the needle a little bit,” said Shari Crittendon, vice president of government affairs for the United Negro College Fund. “It’s very helpful in these hard economic times.”
HBCU leaders also are optimistic because minority-serving colleges would get additional money from the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) that is winding its way through Congress. Approved by the House but pending in the Senate, SAFRA would provide an extra $85 million a year to Black colleges over the next 10 years.
In effect, it would continue the short-term increase HBCUs and other minority-serving colleges received through the College Cost Reduction Act in 2007. That law provided extra funding but only for 2008 and 2009.
“Our goal is to get Title III to $1 billion,” she told Diverse.
One challenge in 2009 was educating the new staff and leaders working for the Senate’s education panel. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, took over as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee after the death of longtime education advocate Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. “It’s been an education process and we are quite confident of his [Harkin’s] support.”
HBCU leaders said another bright spot in the budget is a doubling of federal funds to a loan program available to Black colleges. Funding for the HBCU Capital Financing Program will increase from $10 million to $20 million this year.
Tribal colleges will receive $30 million under the new Education Department spending bill, a $7-million increase from 2009 funding. These institutions also can receive $5.4 million in community-development funding from HUD.
Congress also set aside $3 million for nontribal colleges that enroll a significant number of Native American students.
Elsewhere, the bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant to $5,550 for the neediest students, an increase of $200 from 2009. College-access programs also made some gains. The GEAR UP program will receive a $10 million boost, for total funding of $323 million in 2010. Support for federal TRIO programs will increase by $5 million, to $853 million.
As is often the case in final spending bills, lawmakers approved a number of congressional earmarks, or noncompetitive designated funding, to individual colleges and universities. Notable earmarks for minority-serving institutions include:
- San Jacinto College, Pasadena, Texas, $400,000 for training programs in maritime and energy industries;
- Lincoln University, Lincoln, Pa., $100,000 for college-preparation programs;
- Los Angeles Southwest College, California, $300,000 for health professions training;
- Alcorn State University, Alcorn, Miss., $300,000 for graduate-level curriculum development;
- Gadsden State Community College, Gadsden, Ala., $100,000 for technology upgrades;
- Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas, $350,000 for math/science education programs and $100,000 for health equipment;
- n Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, N.C., $400,000 for an undergraduate research center;
- n Jackson State University, Jackson, Miss., $1 million for a mental health research institute; and
- n Cheyney University, Cheyney, Pa., $100,000 for an honors academy.
Obama signed the bill into law before Christmas.