HBCU land grant universities urge Democrats to include campus infrastructure in spending bill

Nineteen historically black higher education institutions are urging Congress to make funds for HBCU infrastructure improvements “a priority” in its massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

The 1890 Land Grant Universities, in a letter given to POLITICO, pressed Congress’ education leaders Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott to include the Institutional Grants for New Infrastructure, Technology, and Education for HBCU Excellence Act, or HBCU IGNITE Act in their spending bill.

The bill, which was introduced in May, would boost funding for historically Black colleges and universities to help them renovate or construct new campus facilities, expand access to campus-wide broadband and purchase equipment for research and instruction.

“Almost all HBCUs have significant deferred maintenance costs and want to upgrade and build new facilities to meet the needs of our students and communities. The HBCU IGNITE Act would address these,” said Makola Abdullah, president of Virginia State University and chair of the Council of 1890 Universities, in a statement.

Key context: The letter follows a push from Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) on Tuesday at the National HBCU Week conference to pass the HBCU IGNITE Act “either as a standalone piece of legislation or in a larger vehicle.” Both Adams and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) said the bipartisan legislation was a key target for Congress to pass to further support HBCUs.

A Government Accountability Office report from 2018 found that the average deferred maintenance backlog per HBCU is $46 million, though the groups said the number is “much higher” on many campuses. The HBCU IGNITE Act would modernize aging campus buildings and expand campus-wide broadband, among other improvements.

“This bicameral bill, with almost 100 cosponsors in the House and Senate, would dramatically improve the infrastructure of the more than one hundred HBCUs,” they wrote. “... Failure to include such investments would leave a significant gap as Congress and the Biden-Harris administration seek to rebuild our nation’s public infrastructure.”

What’s next: House Education and Labor Committee Democrats on Wednesday unveiled the bill text for the massive spending package. The bill would send new funding — $1.5 billion — in direct aid to HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. A markup of the bill will start on Thursday at noon.