Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Minority-Serving Institutions Find New Technology Advocates: Tech Funding Is One of Several Higher Ed Bills before Congress

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Minority-Serving Institutions Find New Technology Advocates: Tech Funding Is One of Several Higher Ed Bills before Congress

Article excerpt

When the new U.S. Senate opened for business in January, it didn't take long for minority-serving colleges to find a new sponsor for a $250 million technology bill for historically Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges.

The bill to help address the digital divide at minority-serving institutions won new life in the chamber thanks to Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and John Kerry, D-Mass., who stepped in as the new sponsors of the measure. U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., will also champion the measure with U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va.

For several years, the bill's main advocate was Sen. George Allen, R-Va., who lost a close re-election bid to Webb in November. A few African-American leaders had supported Allen for re-election, citing his support for this bill, even after the senator faced criticisms of racial insensitivity after remarks made to one of Webb's campaign workers.

The Minority Serving Institution Digital and Wireless Technology Opportunity Act has had a complicated history, occasionally winning support from the full Senate but never reaching the White House. In the last Congress, the plan again cleared the Senate but never made it past a committee vote in the House.

The House and Senate bills have had some different provisions. While each chamber has proposed $250 million in annual funding, the Senate would run the program through the National Science Foundation while the House bill would rely on the U.S. Commerce Department. In introducing the measure in January, Smith and Kerry talked optimistically of the bill's prospects.

"These grants will help colleges and universities remove roadblocks to the information superhighway for many of our country's minorities," said Smith, a second-term senator.

HBCUs, HSIs and tribal colleges could receive grants for digital wireless networks or other technology and communications upgrades to improve teaching and learning.

"Access to technology is a key element to a quality education," said Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee. "This assistance for minority educational institutions will help remove the technological disparities and ensure the success for all young Americans in school and in work"

Both Kerry and Smith are members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where the bill will get its first review. No timetable has yet been set. …

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