Education Funding

National Science Foundation Awards Grants to Historically Black Colleges

By Julie Blair — October 20, 1999 2 min read

On the heels of a string of recent funding awards for minority higher education, the National Science Foundation this month announced $42 million in grants to historically black colleges and universities for efforts to enhance diversity in scientific and technical fields.

The grants, which stemmed from a congressional mandate last October, will be sent to 14 HBCUs over a five-year period, said Victor Santiago, a program director at the federal science agency. The schools will use the money to improve their curricula, purchase technology, and provide professional development, he said.

“The ultimate goal is to enhance diversity in the science, math, and technology workforce,” Mr. Santiago said. “We’ll focus on the number of students that enroll and successfully complete ‘gatekeeping’ courses.”

Nearly 20,000 students are now enrolled as science, mathematics, and technology majors at 17 HBCUs--including the 14 just awarded grants--that receive NSF money, Mr. Santiago said.

Other Initiatives

The federal grants represent the latest in a series of funding commitments announced this year with the goal of increasing minority participation in higher education. In earlier action by private philanthropies:

  • The Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in September unveiled the Gates Millennium Scholars program, which will provide $1 billion for postsecondary scholarships for 20,000 minority students over two decades. (“Microsoft Founder Offers College Aid to Minorities,” Sept. 22, 1999.)
  • The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment gave $30 million last month to tribal colleges, $50 million in August to Hispanic-serving institutions, and $42 million to HBCUs in August.
  • The Kellogg Foundation in Kalamazoo, Mich., announced a gift of $28.7 million over six years in May for Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, and for partnerships between K-12 schools and colleges, businesses, and community organizations. In 1996, the foundation gave $30 million to tribal colleges and $30 million to HBCUs.

“There is more focus on each of the major segments of minority-serving institutions,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, the president of the Institution for Higher Education Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit organization. “That’s partly because the demographic profile of the nation is changing, and philanthropies are recognizing it. We’re talking about an emerging majority [minority] population, and these institutions that educate [them] need some assistance to make that possible.”

The policy institution responded to the changing U.S. demographics by spearheading the creation of the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education, a collaborative effort announced in August between 175 Hispanic-serving institutions, 31 tribal colleges serving American Indians, and 118 HBCUs. The group is calling for urgent and expanded support of their schools and is lobbying the federal government. The Kellogg Foundation is underwriting the effort.

Such initiatives help other philanthropists to recognize the need for their support and inspire them to give, said Henry Ponder, the president and chief executive officer of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, a Silver Spring, Md., organization that represents 117 HBCUs.

“The whole country is accepting these institutions for the great role they play in helping keep this country competitive,” Mr. Ponder said. “There is a bright future.”

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