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After years of lobbying for more federal aid and visibility, predominantly Black colleges and universities —  many of them located in northern cities — are gaining a greater foothold in Washington.
These colleges, which enroll large numbers of Black students but are not historically Black institutions, will divide $15 million over two years through a new grant competition expected to be formally open for applications soon. Approved under the College Cost Reduction Act, the competitive grants can provide predominantly Black institutions, or PBIs, with a minimum grant of at least $250,000.
“We’ve got a foot in the door. That’s significant,” says Dr. Edison Jackson, president of Medgar Evers College in New York, who long has argued for aid to PBIs. With a Black enrollment of about 94 percent, Jackson’s college would qualify for the new funds.
Precise eligibility rules for the competition are still pending.
However, according to the Department of Education, eligible applicants would include those colleges and universities with an undergraduate enrollment that is “at least 40 percent Black American students.” As a comparison, institutions with a 25 percent Hispanic student population are designated Hispanic-serving institutions.
Under the program, colleges and universities are to use funds for one of the following:
•   Science, technology, engineering or
   mathematics (STEM) activities;
•   Health education;
•   Internationalization or globalization;
•   Teacher preparation; or
•   Improving educational outcomes of
    Black males.
On its Web site, the education department says it expects to make about 25 grants of $600,000 each, the maximum amount of funding available under the program. Funding must supplement, not replace, other federal or state dollars.
The grants are expected to last for two years, though Jackson says PBIs are seeking congressional support to extend the program beyond two years.
“We’re still waiting to hear from the department” on the grant competition, says Jill Hunter-Thompson, legislative director for Rep.
Danny Davis, D-Ill., who has sponsored House legislation to assist PBIs.
A senior Department of Education official held a briefing on the grant program at the recent National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) conference in Washington in March. Application deadline dates should be available soon.
“It’s a tight schedule because the money is available this fiscal year,” says Jackson. The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30, so the government is likely to make grant awards before that date.
Jackson, a board member of NAFEO, says most HBCUs support these initiatives for PBIs.
  “Now that [aid to PBIs] is in a separate category, it’s not seen as competing with the HBCU program,” he tells Diverse. “Most HBCUs are comfortable” with the new PBI funding, Jackson adds.
Aside from Medgar Evers, other institutions likely to qualify for the new funds include Chicago State University and Sojourner Douglas College in Baltimore. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has introduced his own Senate legislation to increase PBI funding, has said that about 75 colleges in 17 states could likely apply for funds as eligible PBIs.
In Illinois alone, other likely eligible institutions include Robert Morris College, several campuses of the City Colleges of Chicago, South Suburban College and East-West University.
In his own legislation, Obama has used eligibility requirements for colleges such as 40 percent Black undergraduate enrollment, a minimum of at least 1,000 undergraduate students, an undergraduate population with at least 50 percent low-income or first-generation college students, and a student population in which at least half of all undergraduates are in a program leading to an associate or bachelor’s degree.
PBIs could also gain through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is now the focus of House/Senate negotiators after both chambers approved different bills. Both chambers have provisions to aid PBIs.
The recently approved House bill defines PBIs in ways largely similar to the Obama approach, defining eligibility based on minimum percentages of Black, low-income and first-generation college students.
But the House bill would authorize $75 million for the program in 2009.
Among other provisions, it would allow PBIs to use federal funds to serve low- and middle-income Black students, promote college preparation and persistence for students in high school and college and improve teacher education.
Colleges could use up to 20 percent of grants to create or increase their endowments.
Under the House bill, PBIs would receive funds through an allotment based partly on enrollment of Pell Grant-eligible students and graduation rates for the college.
While some issues remain unresolved, Jackson says the tide is moving in the right direction. “We’re very pleased that we are in the ballpark,” he says.

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