Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Plan to Consolidate MSI STEM Funding Raises Equity Concerns: Loss of Guaranteed Funding and Potential Increased Competition for NSF Grants Jeopardizes MSI Programs, Advocates Say

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Plan to Consolidate MSI STEM Funding Raises Equity Concerns: Loss of Guaranteed Funding and Potential Increased Competition for NSF Grants Jeopardizes MSI Programs, Advocates Say

Article excerpt

They may appear as a blip on the federal budget screen, but science programs for minority-serving institutions are at the forefront of a debate over the role of these colleges and how best to prepare more students of color for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

In its 2011 budget plan, the Obama administration would consolidate several small programs for historically Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions into one larger initiative that, it says, will give greater visibility to this STEM issue. But since majority White institutions ostensibly could receive grants under this merged program, the issue of equity for MSIs is fast becoming part of the debate.

"We're concerned about it in these tight budget times," said Edith Bartley, director of government affairs for the United Negro College Fund.

Without dedicated, line-item funding, she said, there is the potential to pit HBCUs against each other or to increase competition among individual HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges.

"We have concerns about how funding is distributed when programs are merged," she told Diverse. "Merging of accounts potentially creates a challenge for all our communities."

National Science Foundation (NSF) programs affected by the plan include the HBCU Undergraduates Program (HBCU-UP); the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation; the tribal colleges and universities undergraduate program (TCUP); and the Hispanic-serving institutions program. Together, the programs receive $89 million.

In their place, the administration would create the Comprehensive Broadening Participation of Undergraduate Institutions in STEM funded at $103 million.

However, as an NSF official told Congress recently, funding could go not only to minority-serving colleges but also to other postsecondary institutions with a track record of graduating minorities in STEM fields.

For some grants, MSIs could serve in "a leadership position" in partnerships with majority institutions, said Dr. Arden Bement Jr., NSF director. Bement told a House Science Subcommittee that merging the programs under a larger umbrella would raise the visibility of the program, potentially drawing more interest from national laboratories, other federal agencies and the private sector.

With minorities representing a steadily growing percentage of the U.S. population, Bement said, "We have to find a way to accelerate growth. …

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