Minority-Serving Institutions Scrambling for Quick Funds: HSIs Look for Increased Federal Funding through NSF and Farm Bills

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With Congress just beginning to grapple with the massive Higher Education Act, Hispanic-serving institutions are seeking faster action from lawmakers on a series of other bills that may deliver more funds to HSIs and other minority-serving colleges.

High on this list is a bill to renew and expand programs at the National Science Foundation, where colleges want more grant funding to prepare students in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. Minority students are currently vastly underrepresented in those fields.

In early May, the full House of Representatives approved a bill with new grants to HSIs to improve STEM programs and serve more students. Farm and immigration bills are other avenues where HSIs are asking Congress to do more for Hispanic students.

"Our colleges are really trying to build capacity in STEM areas," says Rosa Garcia, the government relations director for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Under the proposed NSF bill, the agency's director would provide competitive, merit-based grants to HSIs so they can broaden math, science and engineering programs.

The HSI provision of the NSF Authorization Act sailed through the House with broad bipartisan support.

"The NSF already supports similar programs for historically Black colleges and universities and tribal colleges, and this amendment will allow Hispanic-serving institutions to better serve our future leaders and scientists," said U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., during House debate.

"This measure corrects a longstanding inequality at the National Science Foundation," added U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.

An NSF bill approved by Congress in 2002 gave the agency's director the discretion to provide funds to minority-serving institutions, says Garcia. …