Historically Black colleges and universities could see historic funding under Biden plan
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) could see record federal funding as part of a massive spending plan that is essential to President Biden’s legislative agenda.
The institutions stand to see at least $2 billion in federal funding as part of the the sweeping “human infrastructure” package, as well as additional funding set aside for research and development grants in the legislation.
Lawmakers say the amount is historic, and would come as HBCUs have received over $6 billion in COVID-19 relief funding since March. An aide working closely on the negotiations said that’s more than the schools have received over the past decade.
Advocates and lawmakers say that more is needed for the institutions, which have a long history of being underfunded, but, they say the funding will make a difference.
“We had hoped for more, but this is a step in the right direction,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), a graduate of Morehouse College, told The Hill.
The funding proposal was included in a trillion-dollar framework released by the White House last week as a guidance for the Democrats’ social and climate spending package. The lawmakers also hope to use the bill to unlock funding for other party-backed priorities, including affordable housing and education.
The funding allocated for mandatory institutional aid for HBCUs and other minority serving institutions overall was boosted from a previous proposal in an earlier version of the bill from $2 billion to three times the amount. Proposed funding for research and development grants also rose from $2 billion to $3 billion.
Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said the funding can be used to address an array of needs for the schools, including “infrastructure upgrades, financial aid for students, and other improvements to overall campus services.”
“This next round of federal support translates to an additional $7,000 per student in federal aid,” Scott said in a statement. The chairman also said the research and development grants will help minority serving institutions “build out their research capacity and related infrastructure.”
A section-by-section summary of the bill said the package would additionally increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $550 for enrollment at public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education — a move expected to help more than 5 million students.
Lodriguez Murray, vice president of public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), called the funding major.
“We think that $550 increase for the Pell Grant, on top of what’s called for in the regular appropriations bills, is a tremendous step forward,” Murray said, while also noting that “75 percent of HBCU students are Pell Grant-eligible.”
“Every step towards making higher education more attainable for underserved students is a well-needed step forward,” he added.
The updated legislation comes weeks after Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), founder of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, threatened not to back her party’s spending plan unless the package included more federal aid for the institutions.
At the time, Adams, a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, sounded the alarm over a portion of the initial version of the bill she and advocates said would have pitted HBCUs against other minority serving institutions for the research and development funding.
Biden had previously proposed that like institutions compete against each other for the funding. For example, HBCUs would compete against other HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) against other HSIs.
Adams and advocates also raised concerns over a provision of the earlier bill’s text they said would have directed the secretary of Education to prioritize schools that receive less than $10 million annually in federal research money.
Adams said then that she understood the language was aimed at supporting schools with little research capacity, but argued the provision would slow success of HBCUs breaking into the top tier of research.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) told The Hill that she and other members of the caucus worked closely with the White House to resolve those concerns during negotiations.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time of course with the administration and the president and he’s been supportive all along of HBCUs,” Beatty said.
Adams has also indicated she’s on board with the new funding proposals for HBCUs.
“I believe that promises made must be promises kept, and this package keeps our promise to all Americans,” she said Tuesday.
The added push by the White House also comes as Biden has faced pressure from Black voters and activists to make good on campaign promises, ranging from education to voting rights.
Ahead of the White House’s release of the budget framework last week, Murray said Michael Lomax, president of the UNCF, received a call from Vice President Harris, during which he voiced his concerns about the funding.
“She told us that she hears us, that she is a champion for HBCUs, that the president is a champion for HBCUs,” Murray said, adding every concern that Lomax “raised with her was handled in the president’s framework.”
Biden has been meeting with Democratic leaders in recent months as the party continues its work putting his “Build Back Better” plan into legislation.
Party leadership has ambitious goals to pass the massive bill through the House as early as this week. But timing is uncertain as divisions remain among members over multiple areas such as immigration, Medicare and climate provisions.
Democrats are using an arcane process known as budget reconciliation to pass the bill through Congress. Though the maneuver would allow Democrats to approve the bill with a simple majority in the evenly split Senate, they need the vote of nearly every party member in the House and all of their caucus members in the Senate to pass the bill.
Amid disagreements between moderates and progressives, some measures have been stripped entirely from the plan, such as tuition-free community college and a national paid family and medical leave program.
Democrats said the current proposals for funding for HBCUs and minority serving institutions are, so far, expected to remain as-is.
“I’m very comfortable that the funding will be safe,” Beatty has said.
House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), whose panel will mark up the current legislative text before it is sent to the floor for a vote, also told The Hill on Thursday that he hasn’t heard of any proposed changes to the funding.
“I’m encouraged,” Adams said Thursday. “Hopefully, things are set.”