Black Colleges’ Slice of Federal Research Pie Getting Smaller
By Charles Dervarics
Historically Black colleges and universities continue to receive only a small share of federal research and development funds, and their awards for those activities actually declined during the late 1990s, advocates say.
In 1999, Black colleges received only $164 million from federal research and development efforts — less than 1 percent of the $14 billion the federal government awarded to all colleges and universities that year.
Moreover, a study by the National Science Foundation (NSF) found that this $164 million was a decline from the $202 million and $188 million that Black colleges received in 1995 and 1996, respectively.
These figures reveal “disturbing trends,” says Dr. Henry Ponder, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), who cited the data to Congress at a recent field hearing of the House of Representatives’ Select Education Subcommittee.
At NSF alone, HBCUs received just $43 million in 1998, about 2.2 percent of the $1.9 billion the agency awarded to higher education that year. The average HBCU received just $400,000 from NSF that year, compared to an average of $19 million for top 100 colleges and universities, says Ponder.
To deal with this funding shortage, NAFEO is proposing the creation of The HBCU Research University Science and Technology Initiative (THRUST), which would increase the R&D capacity of HBCUs that, in turn, could lead to more doctoral degrees in science professions. Such an initiative should include:
• Start-up funding for new faculty.
• Faculty exchanges and new development.
• Academic instruction in disciplines in which African Americans are underrepresented.
• Science facility renovations, and
• Support services for students in the graduate and doctoral pipeline.
“The ultimate objective of the effort would be to stimulate competitive research and systemic change across the HBCU community,” Ponder says. The problem, Ponder notes, is that federal R&D efforts historically focused on a small number of colleges best equipped to take advantage of an expansion of federal research funding after World War II. But given current work-force trends, “a much larger number of African Americans and persons from other minority groups will need to receive graduate degrees in science and technology fields.”
Specifically for NSF, Black colleges are seeking $20 million in new grants for undergraduate programs targeted at HBCUs. With these funds, NSF could target some of the funds to those HBCUs with doctoral degree programs in science.
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