Supporting HBCU innovation

May. 14, 2014 @ 05:52 PM

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan would like to see the federal government ramp up its support for an initiative getting increasing attention from non-profits and the White House, among others, to strengthen historically black colleges and universities.

She said Tuesday that she would propose a bill to create an HBCU Innovation Fund to strengthen historically black colleges and universities.

“Our HBCUs provide North Carolina students a quality education, and we must continue supporting these institutions in their drive toward innovation,” Hagan said in a statement Tuesday. She chaired a hearing of the Senate Education Committee on the subject of Minority Serving Institutions and HBCUs.

Hagan is from Greensboro, and N. C. A & T University there was a member of the initial cohort for the HBCU Innovation and Entrepreneurship Collaborative launched in February by the United Negro College Fund. Fayetteville State University, too, was part of that initial group.

Last year, the UNCF helped to sponsor a national conference on innovation at historically black schools and organized the HBCU Startup and Innovation Initiative.

Hagan’s proposed bill would establish a competitive grant program that would provide one-year grants to plan, design and develop innovations and five-year grants that would help a college achieve a specific outcome. The planning grants would be for up to $100,000. The implementation grants could be for as much as $10 million a school.

“Priority for grants would be given to programs that increase the number of African American males who attain postsecondary degrees; build partnerships between HBCUs and local high schools to increase the enrollment and successful completion of historically underrepresented populations in higher education; and strengthen partnerships to combine the resources of HBCUs and partner institutions to support entrepreneurship and research on campuses of HBCUs,” Hagan’s office said in announcing the bill.

The proposal has drawn support from leaders of North Carolina’s 10 HBCUs, including Debra Saunders-White, N. C. Central University’s chancellor.

“For more than a century, institutions like North Carolina Central University have educated, graduated and produced the best talent for North Carolina and the global marketplace,” Saunders-White said Tuesday. “Senator Hagan’s proposed bill would invest critical resources into HBCUs so that we can continue creating cutting-edge programs and innovative opportunities for our students” in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The bill, she said, would help students at NCCU and other historically black institutions “to earn a highly marketable competitive degree in industries that are poised for significant growth…”

A news release from Hagan’s office noted that “while HBCUs represent just 3 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities, they enroll 9 percent of the country’s African American undergraduates, produce 17 percent of all African American bachelor degree recipients and generate 22 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields earned by African Americans.”

Hagan’s bill, should it succeed in becoming law, will be a welcome boost to efforts to strengthen HBCUs in this important and growing area.