by Mary Ellen Flannery
With $227.9 million in grants awarded last month to the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, President Obama and his administration have shown continued support for institutions of higher education that open their arms to students who might otherwise be excluded from degree opportunities.
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The grants, which come through the federal Title III program, can be used to strengthen academic resources and student services, train faculty and staff, rebuild aging campuses, and reach out to needy students and families in local communities. They are more evidence of Obama’s efforts to rebuild the American middle class through targeted investments in college access and affordability programs, such as Pell Grants and the $8 billion Community College to Career Fund.
“HBCUs have made enduring, even staggering contributions to American life despite the steep financial challenges many have faced,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “The grants will help these important institutions continue to provide their students with the quality education they need to compete in the global economy.”
At Harris-Stowe State University, a NEA-affiliated HBCU in St. Louis, the vast majority of students need help with their tuition bills, said history professor Mark Abbott. “Without Pell Grants, they simply wouldn’t be able to go to college,” he said. Many are also “non-traditional” students, who work hard to balance a degree-seeking program with full-time jobs and family obligations. Without robust support from faculty and staff, which include specialized (and expensive) counseling services, it can be a struggle for them to graduate.
Harris-Stowe will receive about $1.6 million in the recent five-year grant, while other, larger schools will receive more. For example, Florida A&M University will get $6.6 million, while Alabama A&M University (both are NEA-affiliated campuses) will take in $3.2 million. For years, at Alabama A&M, the Title III grant money has supported counseling and mentoring services, such as the Writing Center and the Changing Lanes First-Year Mentoring Program, as well as information technology updates and other facility needs.
“Historically Black Colleges and Universities play a critical role in making sure all our children have a chance to succeed,” said U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, where four HBCUs will share more than $12 million. “Every child, regardless of race or family income, deserves a chance to go to college. These funds will help HBCUs…prepare students for jobs today and jobs tomorrow.”