This week, Senate Democrats were entangled in a political fight with their Republican counterparts over the funding of the Futures Act, a $255 million program that bolsters science, technology, and math programs or STEM. Republicans objected to restoring expiring funding for Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American, Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, and Predominantly Black Institutions because the GOP would like to overhaul laws surrounding federal higher education.
Some professors are having conversations regarding imminent layoffs if the federal funds are not released.
“We have faculty, we have students right now attending our campuses, and they are making plans to try to find something else — to pack up their families to move somewhere else,” said Harry L. Williams, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
“Such a high percentage of people of color, of people in minority groups, use these colleges to create a great life for themselves,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “They work hard. They study. There’s no alternative for many of them, other than these institutions. To hold the money back, which is what the other side is doing, that is so wrong, that is so unfair. Democrats will not stop fighting the fight to help these institutions and we are committed to securing this funding any way we can. These are American dream institutions. If you believe in the American dream, you shouldn’t be holding this money back.”
The $250 million would fund the Higher Education Act and would pay for research laboratories, faculty salaries and other central aspects of their science programs. College presidents have said the funds are important to fill the pipeline of minority graduates flowing into STEM professions. Historically black colleges and universities produce 21 percent of all black STEM graduates.
“This past week, I have tried every way I can think of to emphasize the importance of renewing this funding to my colleagues,” said Senator Doug Jones, D-Ala. “On Monday, I led 37 of my fellow senators in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer urging them to bring the FUTURE Act to a vote.
On Tuesday, my colleague Senator Cardin from Maryland demanded a vote on the bill, but it was blocked for the fourth time by a one of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, blocked passage of the Future Act in the Senate. Alexander demanded progress on rewriting parts of the Higher Education Act instead.
“We’re not on vacation,” Alexander said Tuesday, after his bills were blocked. “I know everybody’s talking about impeachment, but we have lots of students around this country who would like to have a simpler way to go to college. We have lots of historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions that would like to have permanent funding.”