The Real Story of Obama’s White House Initiative on HBCUs – Part II

The following is an ongoing series to reveal details of federal investment in historically black colleges and universities from 2008-2016. Part I of the series can be found here

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an important source of support for developing the scientific infrastructure and institutional capacity. Because of legislatively directed programs located at the NSF, that agency is the fourth largest source of federal support to HBCUs. Almost 50% of the federal support to HBCUs is in support of STEM activity. The NSF plays a seminal role in the development of HBCU STEM capacity.

The declines in programmatic support to HBCUs during the Obama years had a significant impact in the important areas of engineering, and science-based research and development. Several recent reports from the NSF have attempted to bring attention to the decline in federal support for STEM activity at HBCUs.  The most recent report paints an illustrative picture of 2012 allocations.

“Ninety of the 105 HBCUs received a combined $400.3 million in FY 2012 federal academic S&E obligations, a decrease of 10% from FY 2011 levels. This decrease was the second consecutive annual current-dollar decrease in HBCU funding, resulting in an FY 2012 total that is less than the annual funding in any year since FY 2000. Three agencies contributed 87% of all federal academic S&E obligations to HBCUs: USDA (33%), HHS (30%), and NSF (23%). “NCSES Infobrief. Federal FY 2012 S&E Obligations to Academic Nonprofit Institutions: Focus on Minority-Serving Institutions

Scientific grants of $500,000 or more to HBCUs are usually accompanied with much public fanfare.  It should be noted that the total of $400 million distributed to 90 HBCUs in 2012 is $19 million less than the amount distributed to Georgia Tech in 2014.  Johns Hopkins University received more than $1.5 billion in federal S&E obligations in 2014.

At the National Science Foundation, as with USDA, the funds directed to HBCUs are the result of legislative designation. It is a rare occasion when NSF makes a substantial grant to an HBCU outside of the legislatively designated programs such as The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program (LSAMP), the HBCU Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) and Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST).  

At a time when several federal studies have documented the national need to increase minority participation in the STEM professions and the outsized contribution of HBCUs to solving that problem, the NSF in study after study has documented the decline in federal support to R&D and science-based programs at HBCUs.

With the notable exceptions of Howard, Hampton and Jackson State Universities, NSF support at HBCUs is heavily concentrated at institutions that have the additional advantage of Land Grant support.  Howard University has the distinct advantage of a unique legislative grant.  The relatively high level of participation in federal STEM programs at Hampton and Jackson State Universities should be attributed to the political competence of the institutions’ leadership.

The information available from the NCES and the NSCES documents the temporary two-year increase in federal support that resulted from the implementation of the ARRA. These sources also document the fact that those increases in programmatic support failed to return to or surpass levels reached in the last year of the Bush administration. Those facts can also be found in a proper reading of the annual reports of the WHI.

A series of annual reports are found at the WHI website. On page 3 of the 2013 WHI Annual Report, Table 1A lists the federal funding for HBCUs from 2007 through 2013. The numbers listed are provided by the reporting federal agencies. As can be seen from that table, the total levels of federal support reported (excluding student financial assistance) reaches $1.5 billion at its highest level in 2010. Thereafter, the federal funding levels do not reach the $1.37 billion level of 2008 (the last year of the Bush administration).

In their meeting with the president, the HBCU presidents had three important requests. The first is that the administration maintain levels of support for student financial aid and reinstate summer support so that students can shorten their stays at the institutions. Second, they requested that supervision of the WHI be returned to the White House. This is important in order to avoid the several conflicts of interest that limited the effectiveness of the office in the last administration.

Finally, and importantly, they asked that the level of federal support to the 100 institutions be increased. Based on the last WHI report, the executive branch could double the level of federal agency support by adding $1.5 billion to equal the amount listed for 2010.

By contrast in 2014, the NCSES lists the level of R&D support to Johns Hopkins University at $1.67 billion.

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