Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Dialing for Dollars

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Dialing for Dollars

Article excerpt

Imagine a high-stakes game worth $1.4 billion a year with thousands of players vying for the money. That's the picture historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) face each year as they try to access funds from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

The Pentagon may offer a financial bonanza to colleges and universities, but HBCUs need both subject expertise and an aggressive outreach effort to win contracts, officials say.

"It's not easy to win funds. but it is possible," said Shaik Jeelani, Tuskegee University's vice president for research and sponsored programs. Tuskegee has won several DOD contracts, including a joint project with two other HICUs and two traditionally White institutions (TWIs) to develop lightweight shields for army tanks.

Despite Pentagon efforts to target Black colleges, "The money is just not sitting there for you to grab," he says. "It's a very competitive process."

The Pentagon has an annual goal to award z percent of contract and subcontract dollars to minority and disadvantaged businesses, HBCUs and minority institutions. But officials are quick to point out the S percent is 'a goal, not a specific set-aside." said a spokesman for The College Fund/UNCF, which works with Black colleges to gain defense dollars.

HBCUs also compete for funds with other institutions, including other colleges or universities where a single minority group or combination of groups represents more than 50 percent of total enrollment.

The L;niversity of Texas-El Paso and Illinois Institute of Technology are among non-HBCUs that have qualified for minority institution (MI) status, Jeelani said. The Illinois school alone has a larger graduate division than our undergraduate division, he adds.

Developing Relationships

In 1995, 1-il3CUs won $76.. 1 million worth ltl of DOT)OD grants, according to the President's Board of Advisors on Ht3CtIs. This figure represented 6 percent of all I)OI) awards to higher education that year.

The 1995 figure was a 47 percent increase above the previous year, when HBCts (lid not fare as well. And although it's at major improvement. the 1995 figure "pales in comparison to the overall RSD Defense Department budget and does not compare favor rahly with the almost $1.4 hillion the department awards to all institutions of higher education," the ac isory board says in its HBCU report, A Century of Success.

The board's report recommends that a 5 percent goal for HBCUs should become a "minimum target" for each federal agency's research and development activities. It adds that federal agencies should develop plans that receive twice-a-year reviews from Vice President All Gore and the federal HBCU board.

So how do Black colleges position themselves to win funds? By working with HBCU leadership organizations and industry leaders.

Tennessee State University works with major defense contractors in areas where it has expertise, said Decatur Rogers, dean of engineering and technology. Rogers's institution has SI.5 million in government contracts. ahout 75 percent of which invol e lefense. Its specialty is monitoring Sy'S[tIllS, such as alarms and signals that give pilots detailed diagnostic information ahout their aircraft as well as possible solutions to problems.

Bly striking up relationships with contractors, HBCUs can figure out how their areas of specialty fit with current and upcoming projects.

"It's hetter to have some(one call you about a project," he says. Once people find out that you have expertise, you can become part of a larger proposal

Finding Assistance

Rogers also monitors Commerce Busitess Daily, a publication on contracts, but said the best way to learn of projects is word of mouth. …

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