New Legislation May Aid Minority-Serving Institutions
New federal legislation to help implement technology at minority-serving institutions may have a major positive effect for Black colleges and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, witnesses told a Senate panel.In a congressional hearing originally scheduled for last fall but delayed following the attacks of Sept. 11, HBCU and HSI leaders said their institutions have two major needs — to develop an on-campus technology infrastructure and produce graduates with strong computer skills.“The ‘digital divide’ is not an empty buzzword, but an unfortunate reality,” said Antonio Flores, president and chief executive officer of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Nationwide, Hispanics are 28 percent less likely than Whites to use the Internet.Introduced last year, the bill (S. 414) would provide grants to minority-serving institutions, consortia and other eligible entities to purchase hardware and software; build technology infrastructure, including wiring, platforms and networks; and train institutional personnel to use software and hardware. Other provisions of the NTIA Digital Network Technology Program Act would encourage private sector partnerships and waive matching requirements for certain colleges.“For minority-serving institutions, including HSIs, S. 414 offers a new and important avenue to meet the educational and human-resource needs of our high-technology driven economy and our increasingly complex democracy,” Flores said.Black colleges also face serious technology challenges, said William Gray, president of the United Negro College Fund. At UNCF institutions, about 90 percent of students receive financial assistance and 60 percent are first-generation college students who may have had little computer background before coming to college.“For many institutions that enroll large numbers of minorities, making up the digital deficits at home and at school constitutes a real financial challenge,” he told the Senate science committee.“HBCUs face a dual digital challenge — they enroll a large number of students who are admitted to college with the least pre-enrollment exposure and knowledge of technology and the Internet, and the institutions that admit them face certain financial challenges in overcoming these digital deficits,” Gray said.Only about 15 percent of UNCF students own computers, Gray said. Less than 50 percent of UNCF faculty have computers, compared with 71 percent of college faculty nationwide.The bill is pending in the Senate Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee. S. 414 has five Senate sponsors, while a companion bill, H.R. 1034, also has been introduced in the House of Representatives.
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