TIAA calls on Congress to support IGNITE for HBCUs

The Act would give institutions a historic boost in updating infrastructure and building critical pathways for students.
By: | June 15, 2021
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Historically Black Colleges and Universities hoping to modernize facilities, improve internet capabilities and boost research efforts received a strong show of support Tuesday from one of their key partners.

TIAA President and CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett asked members of Congress to include in any future infrastructure legislation a bipartisan initiative called IGNITE – the Institutional Grants for New Infrastructure, Technology and Education for HBCU Excellence Act.

Proposed in May by Reps. Alma Adams (D-NC) and French Hill (R-AR), along with Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Tim Scott (R-SC), IGNITE aims to boost the stature and stability of HBCUs by providing funding to ensure students are receiving critical resources and supports and that their pathways meet the needs of prospective employers.

“Despite HBCUs’ strong success in achieving this mission, they have consistently struggled to attain adequate public and private funding,” Brown Duckett said in the letter to House members Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy and Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell. “This has presented ongoing challenges to the HBCU community. We applaud Representatives Adams and Hill, and Senators Coons and Scott for their bipartisan work on this bill. We are hopeful the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act will be enacted in the near future.”

What IGNITE will do

Aside from granting HBCUs the resources to rebuild or build new facilities, the IGNITE Act seeks to maintain structures that have historic significance on campuses, as well as improve the safety, sustainability and cohesion of residences. In the classrooms, additional capital through public and private investments would help provide technologies and equipment that better serve students.

“The IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act is the most transformative legislation for Historically Black Colleges and Universities in history,” said Adams, founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, said. “For over 150 years, HBCUs have been agents of equity, access, and excellence in education, despite being ignored and marginalized by federal and state governments. The IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act invests in our HBCU facilities to give students state-of-the-art learning environments and enables HBCUs to continue to be a critical source of diversity in the workforce for another century and beyond.”

The TIAA noted how transformational HBCUs are in fueling success: one quarter of all Black STEM graduates come from those institutions, as do 80% of all Black medical and dental degrees holder. Of the Black faculty that instruct at predominately White research institutions, half got their schooling at HBCUs. The majority of HBCUs are connected to TIAA (a provider of retirement services for colleges and universities) and buoyed by their programs such as HBCU Early Career Insights, which offers students skill-building, networking and internships through TIAA members and HBCU alumni.

The IGNITE legislation is critical in ensuring students of color and first-generation students continue to enjoy opportunities – especially those who attend other institutions enjoy – and paths toward a bright future.

“The infrastructure needs of HBCUs is a decades old issue, and the time has come to address those needs,” said Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. “This investment, which is absolutely needed, speaks to larger issues such as underfunding of HBCUs, systemic ways of accessing capital that disadvantages both Black people and Black organizations like HBCUs, and the needs of students who bring both diversity and aptitude to our Nation’s future workforce. We offer our support, and we call on the Congress to pass this bill during this session.”