House Panel Votes To Block NSF Funding Shift - Higher Education

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House Panel Votes To Block NSF Funding Shift

by Charles Dervarics

A House of Representatives panel on Wednesday dealt a blow to the Obama administration’s plan to consolidate federal science programs for minority-serving institutions into a single entity with broader competition.

 The Science and Technology Committee voted to prohibit the National Science Foundation from undertaking such a consolidation in fiscal year 2011, which begins this Oct. 1 and runs through September 2011. The measure also would require NSF to solicit input from minority-serving institutions and experts in increasing science participation among underserved populations in developing any realignment or consolidation plan.

 “The Foundation shall continue to support the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program and the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program as separate programs at least through Sept. 30, 2011,” says the manager’s amendment to H.R. 5116, a bill to renew the 2007 America Competes law.

 The committee’s action comes amid criticism of the plan, which would consolidate those three programs into a new Comprehensive Broadening Participation of Undergraduate Institutions in STEM program. Rather than HBCUs and tribal colleges receiving separate allotments, the plan would combine funding streams and allow majority White institutions to apply for funds in partnership with MSIs.

 Foundation leaders said the plan would raise the visibility of STEM efforts at minority-serving institutions, building more partnerships and, potentially, generating more interest among national laboratories. However, HBCUs had expressed concerns about the plan, as had the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

 HACU leaders said they had been expecting NSF to create a similar, separate pot of money for Hispanic-serving colleges to meet the goals of the 2007 America Competes law. “HSIs have not yet had their foot in the door,” says Dr. Antonio Flores, HACU president.

 Together, the current HBCU, Stokes and tribal college programs receive $89 million. The administration had proposed an increase to $103 million with the consolidation but potentially adding HSIs as well as majority institutions into the mix.

 Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, a Congressional Black Caucus member, was among those leading the effort by Science committee members to scuttle the switch. Johnson authored an amendment, adopted by the committee, that would prohibit the move for next year.

“Some of my colleagues and I strongly feel that merging these programs into one competitive grant will be harmful to the underrepresented populations these programs serve,” Johnson said in a statement to Diverse.

 Rather than consolidate funding streams with uncertain funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, Johnson argued that Congress should focus on providing more funds for the current programs. “These programs need additional funding to see even greater success than what has already been achieved,” she said.

 Johnson’s amendment also would require NSF to develop a detailed plan outlining the objectives and rationale for any future consolidation.

 The measure now goes to the House floor. The Senate has not acted on the measure.

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