Dialing for dollars: against heavy competition, HBCUs need savvy, expertise to win Department of Defense funding – historically Black colleges and universities – includes related article on the increasing US Air Force funding to HBCUsJuly 12, 2007 |
by Charles Dervarics
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 HBCUs 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
The Pentagon has an annual goal to award 5 percent of contract and
subcontract dollars to minority and disadvantaged businesses, HBCUs and
minority institutions. But official’s are quick to point out the 5
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
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
The University 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.
In 1995, HBCUs won $76.1 million worth of DOD grants, according to
the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. This figure represented 6
percent of all DOD awards to higher education that year.
The 1995 figure was a 47 percent increase above the previous year,
when HBCUs did not fare as well. And although it’s a major improvement,
the 1995 figure “pales in comparison to the overall R&D Defense
Department budget and does not compare favorably with the almost $1.4
billion the department awards to all institutions of higher education,”
the advisory 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 Al 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 $1.5 million in government
contracts, about 75 percent of which involve defense. Its specialty is
monitoring systems, such as alarms and signals that give pilots
detailed diagnostic information about their aircraft as well as
possible solutions to problems.
By striking up relationships with contractors, HBCUs can figure out
how their areas of specialty fit with current and upcoming projects.
“It’s better to have someone call you about a project,” he says.
“Once people find out that you have expertise, you can become part of a
Rogers also monitors Commerce Business Daily, a publication on
contracts, but said the best way to learn of projects is word of mouth.
He also advises spending time in Washington, D.C., getting to know
project officers, contract officers and the federal bureaucracy.
At the Pentagon, “There are many divisions and departments that are responsive and some [that] are not,” he says.
One area for improvement is getting better HBCU representation on
the largest higher education defense contracts, he said. Black colleges
with engineering departments and technical expertise should receive
“stronger consideration for mainstream contracts,” Rogers says.
Another way to learn about projects is through the technology
committee at the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher
Education (NAFEO). The committee usually holds a workshop fore NAFEO’s
annual meeting that features department leaders from most federal
The College Fund/UNCF also works closely with the Pentagon as part
of its DOD Infrastructure Development Assistance Program. The program
offers detailed information about defense contracts, workshops and
hands-on technical assistance.
It also provides information about other DOD programs, including one in which the agency can donate surplus equipment to HBCUs.
The College Fund/UNCF will sponsor a conference in Charlotte in
October on DOD issues, which follows a 1996 conference with workshops
and opportunities for university staff to visit with DOD officials.
While technical expertise is a must for many competitions, HBCUs can
win Pentagon funds even if their academic strengths lie elsewhere. One
example is the National Security Education Program, created in 1991 as
a way for higher education to develop linkages with languages and
cultures in less commonly studied countries.
Morris Brown College won one of NSEP’s earliest grants to create the
HBCU Study Abroad Resource Network, in which ten HBCUs use a $440,000
grant to address the serious under-representation of African Americans
in study abroad programs.
“Most HBCUs don’t have their own study abroad programs and those out
there are very costly,” says Tejan Muata, director of the study abroad
Each participating university awards a scholarship for at least one
student to spend a year at institutions in South Africa, Namibia, Cape
Verde, Morocco, Ghana or Brazil. The resource network also advises
other students about financial resources for overseas study.
Participants in the project include Albany State College, Atlanta
Metropolitan College, Clark Atlanta University, Fort Valley State
College, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Paine
College, Savannah State College and Spelman College.
For more information about defense contracts contact:
Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (SADBU)
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology
OUSD(A&T), Room 2A340 The Pentagon Wash DC 20301-3061
The College Fund/UNCF Department of Defense Infrastructure
Development Assistance Program 8260 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive
Fairfax, VA 22031 (703) 205-3480 Web:http://220.127.116.11/dod
NAFEO 400 12th St. NE Washington, DC 20002 (202) 543-9111
National Security Education Program 1101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1210 Arlington, VA 22209-2248 (703) 696-1991
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