Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

High-Tech Help on the Way: Both Chambers of Congress Have Passed a Technology Bill for MSIs. Now They Need to Bridge Their Differences to Bridge the Digital Divide at MSIs

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

High-Tech Help on the Way: Both Chambers of Congress Have Passed a Technology Bill for MSIs. Now They Need to Bridge Their Differences to Bridge the Digital Divide at MSIs

Article excerpt

After four years of fits and starts, minority-serving colleges may have their best opportunity yet in 2007 to secure congressional passage of a bill to address the digital divide at historically Black colleges, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.

The full House approved the Minority Serving Institution Digital and Wireless Technology Act in September. It would authorize $250 million for the first year of a multi-year program aimed at helping HBCUs, HSIs and others build their technology infrastructure and deliver training and resources to instructors and students.

"Students enrolled in HBCUs need all of the necessary state-of-the-art tools that will allow them to compete in a global society," said Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., a Congressional Black Caucus member and co-sponsor of the plan along with Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va. Among other uses, colleges could utilize the funds to:

* purchase digital and wireless networking technologies and equipment for campus wiring;

* develop new technology education services;

* provide technical assistance through face-to-face and distance learning workshops;

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* provide professional development to faculty and administrators; and

* implement joint projects with other MSIs on technology education.

"Given their contributions to our society, we must do all we can to make sure that MSIs receive the most modern technology to keep up with other universities," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., another CBC member. According to Scott, fewer than half of students at minority-serving institutions own computers, and some colleges lack high-speed Internet access.

The vote by the full House follows action by the Senate during the summer. Senators approved a similar plan from Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Jim Webb, D-Va., as part of a Higher Education Act amendments bill. Congress would have to bridge differences between the two proposals before it could go to the White House for President Bush's signature.

Differences between the House and Senate often have delayed these proposals in recent years (see chart on pg. 14). But congressional aides say there is new optimism this year that the two chambers can work together to reach common ground.

One stumbling block for years has been lack of agreement on designating a government agency to run the initiative. The House long has proposed that the U.S. Department of Commerce operate the program. But from 2003 until this year, the Senate has wanted it housed at the National Science Foundation to ensure a stringent, peer-reviewed grant application process. …

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