Higher ed may see its first HBCU reach R1 status thanks to this grant

HBCUs graduate 25% of all Black STEM students despite making up only 3% of all colleges.

As it currently stands, no HBCU fits the bill for R1 status, a Carnegie Classification rank that every research institution aspires for. Only 146 colleges and universities—less than 4% of all higher education institutions—have reached this pedestal.

But that could all change thanks to a new opportunity announced by the U.S. Department of Education called the Development Infrastructure Grant Program (RDI). Through this grant, the Department aims to provide $50 million to HBCUs, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) “to implement transformational investment in research infrastructure.”

The RDI would go directly toward helping boost HBCU and MSI Carnegie Classification designations, such as moving a school with an R2 classification (Doctoral Universities with High Research Activity) to an R1 classification (Doctoral Universities with Very High Research Activity). The grant would be used to develop schools’ physical infrastructure and increase their research productivity and partnerships, thereby qualifying them for ranking up.

Eleven HBCUs are eligible for an R1 upgrade as they currently sit with R2 status. Such an upgrade would bolster the graduation of Black STEM student outcomes, seeing that HBCUs churn out 25% of these students despite HBCUs making up only 3% of all colleges, according to Politico.

“This is going to be impactful for the community,” said Lodriguez Murray, United Negro College Fund senior vice president of public policy and government affairs. “And we’re hopeful that this is the floor and not the ceiling for this type of spending.”

How the RDI can kickstart an HBCU R1 powerhouse

For decades, states have disproportionately funded predominantly white land-grant universities over their HBCU counterparts, which is further underscored by a report last month that uncovered that HBCUs have lost out on more than $90 million in state funding over the past five years due to inequalities in farm bill-funded research and extension programs.

This dearth of funding has led to infrastructure decay, creating poor housing conditions for HBCU students over the years. Bethune-Cookman University (Fla.) and Howard University (D.C.) have both had run-ins with mold, rampant flooding and even rats.

However, R1 schools receive significantly more funding than R2 institutions. For example, R1 institutions receive $43.8 million per academic year at the minimum, which is similar to the Department’s RDI opportunity. Consequently, HBCUs can see sustained funding instead of a one-time payment. And with sustained funding comes compounding upgrades.

With more money to build attractive research infrastructure, the higher the incentive is for talented researchers, faculty and students to attend. And funding, combined with talent, ushers in more ambitious research proposals.

“You have more confidence as a [grant proposal] reviewer based on what’s in your mind that it’s more likely that the faculty member at the R1 institution has the support needed to carry out the research, so it’s more likely that this research will be successful. That’s just how the thinking goes,” said Claudia Rankins, senior research associate at PRISSEM Academic Services and a retired Program Director of HBCU-UP at the National Science Foundation, according to The Plug.

And as research proves successful, the cycle continues in perpetuity.

“Research on timely and important topics attracts attention, which in turn leads to greater institutional visibility and reputation,” writes David Rosowsky, vice president of research at Kansas State University, on Forbes. “As a university becomes known for its research in certain fields, they become magnets for students, faculty, grants, media coverage and even philanthropy.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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