Proposed STEM Grant Program Seems to Fit NAFEO Mission

Oakwood Senior Vice President Timothy McDonald sees an opportunity for his school to benefit from STEM Innovation Networks in the proposed 2014 budget.Oakwood Senior Vice President Timothy McDonald sees an opportunity for his school to benefit from STEM Innovation Networks in the proposed 2014 budget.

WASHINGTON — When a federal education official started telling NAFEO conference attendees Monday about a proposed competitive grant program for postsecondary institutions to do professional development for teachers in the area of STEM, Oakwood University Senior Vice President Timothy McDonald began to take notes.

“Some of us have been concerned that the Department of Education, under an Obama administration, has been drifting toward emphasis on K-12 to the detriment of higher education,” McDonald said. He later explained why the competitive grant program caught his attention.

“This program at least opens the doors for partnerships for universities to work with local school districts, so it’s a way for strengthening both,” McDonald said.

McDonald was referring to a $150 million competitive grant program called STEM Innovation Networks that is included in the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget.

Under the competitive grant program, local school districts can partner with institutions of higher education, nonprofits and other public agencies, as well as businesses, to “increase the number of students who are effectively prepared for postsecondary education and careers in STEM fields.”

Eligible applicants must develop “comprehensive plans for identifying, developing, testing and implementing evidence-based practices to provide rich STEM learning opportunities for students.” The STEM Networks must employ a “range of strategies” in areas such as recruitment, preparation and professional development of effective STEM educations.

McDonald said an existing program at Oakwood — known as the NASA/Oakwood University Pre-Service Teacher Institute, currently a two-week residential institute for college students who are preparing to teach in an elementary or middle school — would be a “good model” for a program under the grant if developed.

“It would fit perfectly,” McDonald said.

McDonald’s enthusiasm for the potential federal grant opportunity served to characterize the theme of NAFEO’s 39th National Dialogue on Blacks in Higher Education. The theme of the event is “From Emancipation to Innovation Education to Liberation.” The conference continues this week with presentations and meetings with congressional officials on Capitol Hill.

McDonald was one of several NAFEO attendees who were able to engage with Denise Forte, acting assistant secretary within the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education, as she briefed attendees the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget.

“The fiscal ‘14 budget is pretty exciting in terms of the overall request from the president,” Forte said.

She said the budget is “keeping us on a path to sustainability, but also recognizing that in order to do these big increases in education funding, we’re going to have to find savings in other areas of the budget.”

The overall education budget is approximately $71 billion, which is more than $3 billion over the pre-sequester fiscal 2013 budget, Forte said.

Though far from a done deal, NAFEO officials said that is one of the most beneficial aspects of the proposed budget.

“That’s huge,” said Lezli Baskerville, NAFEO president and CEO, referring to the budget’s return to pre-sequester funding levels, which impacts a range of higher education programs.

Higher education figures prominently in the budget priorities, Forte said.

For instance, the budget focuses on college affordability by proposing $1 billion for a Race to the Top — College Affordability and Completion initiative that would provide competitive grants to states that “undertake comprehensive reforms in both higher education policies and practices that help more students attain high-quality degrees.”

“The program also will provide incentives for states to do more to contain college costs and make it easier for students to afford a college education,” Obama administration budget documents state.

Among other things, the budget also proposes:

  • $260 million for a “First in the World” fund that seeks to “spur cutting-edge innovations to boost postsecondary attainment rates and decrease costs, leveraging advances in the learning sciences and technology,” budget documents state. “The program will also provide new funds to test and expand strategies to help low-income high school students prepare for, attend and succeed in two- and four-year colleges and universities.”
  • $10 billion for campus-based aid programs that involve funding for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Perkins Loans, as well as a $150 million increase for Federal Work Study that would eventually double the number of participants over the next few years. “The President’s plan also proposes changes to the funding formula of campus-based aid programs, which will recognize and reward colleges that have a track record of serving high-need students well, setting responsible tuition policies and providing good value to students and families,” budget documents state.
  • $190 million for a new Presidential Teaching Fellows program that would provide formula grants to states to fund scholarships of up to $10,000 for students at “high-performing teacher preparation programs.” “The new program would limit eligibility to teacher preparation programs with a record of success, and to students who are further advanced in their program of study, to help ensure that scholarship recipients will be more likely to not only enter and remain in the teaching profession, but also to become effective teachers,” budget documents state.

 

Beyond the budget, the other big news at the National Association For Equal Opportunity’s conference is that the Department of Education plans this week to begin doing outreach to HBCUs regarding plans to reconsider parents who were denied Parent PLUS Loans this past academic year due to “adverse credit,” namely charge-offs and collections, according to Joel L. Harrell, deputy director of the School Experience Group within the U.S. Department of Education.

William Harvey, president at Hampton University, and chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, said the denials of Parent PLUS Loans to 14,000 families this past academic year hurt HBCUs financially.

“If we just take that 14,000, multiply that times $12,000 [in tuition], that’s a final impact on our institutions of $168 million,” Harvey said. “That’s a lot of money.”

Harrell of the education department said he did not know how many of the individuals who were denied Parent PLUS loans might be able to reapply.