Status Update

By Hernandez, Arelis | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, August 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

Status Update

Hernandez, Arelis, Diverse Issues in Higher Education

HBCUs' share of stimulus money, with few exceptions, did little to improve the beleaguered condition of the institutions.

Since the $787 billion stimulus package, formally known as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), was signed into law last year, an estimated $50 billion to $75 billion have gone to higher education institutions through research grants, capital improvement funds and student aid.

A Diverse analysis shows that, in the first year of the program, fiscal year 2009, federal agencies funneled more than $550 million to historically Black colleges and universities. However, the analysis is not definitive due to reporting irregularities. While publicly available data does little to distinguish new monies from yearly grants and appropriations, it appears much of the stimulus money to HBCUs was used to help them hang on rather than thrive with a new investment.

President Barack Obama has pledged to increase federal funding to minorityserving institutions and bring direct investment to these schools to historic levels. During the first year of the ARRA allocations, the nation's HBCUs experienced some of the worst economic retrenchment, resulting in layoffs, substantial cutbacks, dwindling endowments and donations, and, in some cases, tuition hikes, interviews show.

HBCU boosters hoped the stimulus package would serve as a lifeline and provide a significant new investment in institutions that have been historically underfunded. The package contained money that would make an "incredible difference" to HBCUs, Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, told Reuters before Obama signed ARRA in February 2009.

Observers are mute about the impact so far and probably because so little is known about how much money these institutions received. Despite government promises of transparency that resulted in a public database to track spending, located at recovery, gov, determining the HBCU portion of the $787 billion package is a confounding and daunting task.

"We know there was a flow of stimulus funds to higher education, and a number of HBCUs benefited from those funds," says Dr. John Silvanus Wilson, executive director for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, whose office has been trying to make stimulus distinctions. "And as far as we know, the funds were put to good use."

Using information from federal and state governments, as well as recipient institutions, Diverse collected and analyzed award data for the nation's private and public HBCUs. However, due to missing data and incongruence in the government's formatting and categorization, some institutions are left out of this analysis.

Preliminary calculations show that, in 2009 alone, HBCU awards totaled more than $550 million with four institutions receiving more than $20 million for each of their campuses. Using data from 95 private and public HBCUs in the 2009 cycle, Diverse organized awards according to type, amount and awarding agency.

Money entered HBCUs via capital improvement projects, research grants in medicine and science, work-force development and building preservation. But the vast majority of the awards - about half - bolstered Pell Grants, Federal Work Study and other forms of student aid.

This strategy does not differ from how HBCUs are generally funded.

"Between $3.5 (billion) and $4 billion flows from the federal government to HBCUs every year, but it is still less than 3 percent of the money that flows from the federal government to all of American higher education. Most of that money comes in the form of student financial aid," Wilson says.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, a University of Pennsylvania professor and higher education historian, says using stimulus money to maintain the status quo is problematic. The bulk of the stimulus funds were awarded or linked to continuing grants from agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Education. …

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