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Perspectives: Taking Full Advantage of Funding Opportunities

Like many institutions of higher education, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) face the financial challenge of addressing faculty, student and infrastructure needs while maintaining affordable tuition. The good news is that there are a number of federal funding opportunities available to help. 

Some of these opportunities are specifically aimed at HBCUs, while others are offered to HBCUs and other institutions of higher education. On the federal level, Congress appropriates funds, commonly known as “earmarking,” that go directly to projects and programs important to HBCUs. As an example, in fiscal year 2008, Congress appropriated $731,000 for the recruitment and training of nursing assistants at Dillard University.

Congress also funds competitive programs that HBCUs are eligible for, including grant programs (discussed later) and the New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) program offered by the Department of Treasury. The NMTC program was established to help fund valuable infrastructure projects, including those associated with colleges and universities. In 2003, the NMTC program awarded $38 million in tax credits to help Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey promote its new business school, and $35 million in tax credits to help The Ohio State University revitalize the urban neighborhoods around its Columbus campus. This was on top of funding provided by selected private foundations and by public-private partnerships. Morehouse College received $4 million from the Kellogg Foundation, starting in 2005, for the development of a new model for eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care. 

Yet surprisingly, many HBCUs are not taking full advantage of these funding opportunities. This may be because of a lack of awareness about funding options or inadequate staffing levels in-house to pursue them. Or, some HBCUs may simply be reluctant to seek the help of Washington-based law and consulting firms because of anticipated costs. This is unfortunate, perhaps even shortsighted, because a creative approach that looks at all funding opportunities — even those not directed specifically toward HBCUs — can uncover many valuable programs that will help HBCUs achieve their goals.

Take a look at federal grant programs. Grant funding for HBCUs was established under the Higher Education Act of 1965. In the Higher Education Act, Congress found that “financial assistance to establish or strengthen the physical plants, financial management, academic resources, and endowments of the historically Black colleges and universities are appropriate methods to enhance these institutions.” As a result, it created grant programs that can be found in a number of federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They can also be found at the National Institutes of Health, National Air and Space Administration, and National Science Foundation. These grants can fund a number of important initiatives.

In 2006, Dillard University received $2 million from a HUD program to address community development, including neighborhood revitalization, housing and economic development. In that same year, South Carolina State University received $1 million from the Department of Energy to enhance its research, environmental management and science curriculum. In 2007, Dillard received $2.4 million from the Department of Education for technology, student retention, and the establishment of centers in bioscience and business and global studies. Dillard also received $600,000 from HUD as part of its program to help low-income communities meet development needs. 

Grant opportunities for HBCUs are not limited to those created under HEA. In fact, almost every agency of the federal government administers grants that can fund many programs and projects at all institutes of higher education, including HBCUs. For example, the Department of Commerce provides grants through its Economic Development Administration for public infrastructure projects that promote economic development, including those on college campuses. Last September, Arkansas State University received $1.5 million toward the construction of the Delta Center for Economic Development, part of its College of Business. The NIH, through its National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities Program, provides funding for the creation of “Centers of Excellence” to ease the health burden and disparities in underserved populations. In October 2007, Clark Atlanta

University received $6.5 million to establish a Center of Excellence for Prostate Cancer

Research, Education and Community Services to address prostate cancer in the Black community. 

Grant-funding opportunities like the ones described above can and should be part of the funding mix that HBCUs seek to help meet their strategic goals. 

— A. Scott Bolden is managing partner of the Washington, D.C., office of Reed Smith LLP, and Eddie N. Williams is president and CEO of Eddie Williams and Associates LLC and former president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Together they have formed a legal and consulting team to assist HBCUs to take advantage of both traditional and nontraditional opportunities to achieve their funding goals and objectives. For additional information, contact A. Scott Bolden at [email protected] or Eddie N. Williams at [email protected].


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