Seeking to Compete, NAFEO Hires Lobbying Firm
by Ronald Roach These days, it would seem the Clinton administration’s open door for historically Black colleges and universities has made it easier than ever for Black schools to secure federal government support. Under the current administration, the nation’s HBCUs have enjoyed their most significant backing from the federal government. From science research grants to Title III funding, the dollars flowing into Black college coffers have never been higher, according to higher education experts. But at least one advocacy organization representing HBCUs is attempting to make itself more politically competitive than before. Last January, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) retained the services of Van Scoyoc and Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group, to represent the organization before Congress and the federal executive branch.The development signals a new era for NAFEO, which has traditionally relied upon staff lobbyists and Capitol Hill allies, such as Congressmen William Clay and Major Owens, to garner support for HBCUs. NAFEO leaders have argued that even with greater receptivity among Washington policymakers during the Clinton years, the organization stands to do a better job for its 118 members by retaining professional lobbyists. “The idea is to get this government to be even more receptive to the needs of Black colleges and universities,” says Dr. Henry Ponder, president of NAFEO. “The value [of a lobbying firm] is that they have a full-time staff that does nothing but lobbying. It’s been a part-time effort for us.” Dr. Ed Fort, chairman of the NAFEO board and outgoing chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University, says that the growing higher education trend of retaining full-time D.C. lobbyists became a competitive imperative for the organization. “You have tens and tens of campuses and university systems that have full-time federal relations experts working for them, and only for them [in Washington, D.C.],” Fort says. “NAFEO can do no less.”Ponder admits that NAFEO could do a better job representing its member institutions in Washington by having a higher profile than it currently enjoys. He acknowledges that The College Fund/UNCF, led by the charismatic former congressman William Gray, has overshadowed NAFEO. He believes it also causes some confusion among policymakers regarding the respective roles of the two organizations. As a result, NAFEO is seeking to boost its public profile. “We’ve got to make NAFEO as well known as the College Fund,” Ponder says. After getting hired in January, Van Scoyoc officials scrambled to get NAFEO requests submitted to House and Senate Appropriation Committees by the end of March. Requests included recommendations for substantial increases in Title III HBCU funding for capacity building and graduate assistance, and for special initiative funding for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Interior for HBCU projects. Anita Estell, a partner at Van Scoyoc and manager of the NAFEO account, says Van Scoyoc is seeking to build upon NAFEO’s 30-year track record. For example, she says the firm can leverage its relationships to get NAFEO representatives involved in federal budget discussions with key administration officials, such as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, earlier in the process. “We want to take [NAFEO] to another level,” Estell says. Van Scoyoc ranks among one of the top Washington firms representing higher education institutions and consortiums. The firm counts John Hopkins University, Tulane University, Spelman College, and the University of Arizona among its client list. Estell says her firm also agreed to assist NAFEO with public relations efforts. The organization, she believes, has a distinguished history, which needs disseminating to the public.“I hope to get Dr. Ponder introduced more widely,” Estell says, adding that the public and policymakers need to know the NAFEO story. Last year, NAFEO and HBCU officials took particular pride in seeing increased Title III, Part B funding in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Ponder says the 1986 Higher Education Act, which created the Part B provision in Title III specifically for HBCUs, represents NAFEO’s greatest legacy because it has boosted Higher Education Act funding for HBCUs over the years.“If it had not been for NAFEO’s work in the 1980s, there probably would be little or no Title III funding for HBCUs by now,” says Dr. Robert James, Title III coordinator at Fayetteville State University and former president of the National Association of Title III Administrators (NATTA). NAFEO officials acknowledge that as the Clinton administration nears its end it is critical to have Washington representatives with strong bipartisan relationships with policymakers. The organization also has attempted to forge stronger relationships with individual federal agencies, particularly to help member institutions obtain research funds. One of the biggest developments for HBCUs in the 1990s is the increase in federal research dollars pouring into Black campuses. Statistics show the total annual federal agency research awards going to Black schools rose 19 percent from fiscal year 1992 to fiscal year 1997, according to the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Dr. Franklin Hamilton, president of the National Sponsored Programs Administrators Alliance of HBCUs Inc. (NSPAA), says research funding in the past several years has flowed generously to the best prepared and science/engineering-oriented campuses, such as Florida A&M, Tuskegee, and North Carolina A&T universities. Noting that nearly 40 schools are active in NSPAA, Hamilton says member institutions are receiving from around $2 million annually to upwards of $50 million in federal research funds. The organization is seeking to help smaller HBCUs get a larger share of research. Currently, 60 to 70 percent of federal research funds go to roughly 20 percent of the HBCU schools, according to Hamilton. Hamilton says NAFEO deserves credit for playing the role of “a broker” between federal agencies and individual schools.“NAFEO has been a mechanism for bringing our issues to the table,” he says.
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