When the President talks about building a better America, he’s very clear about what “better” means – a country where our investments in public infrastructure and innovation through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law address entrenched disparities. Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), are essential partners in this project.
On his first day in office, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities, directing agencies to find ways to ensure federal funding flows to those who need it most. To bolster this effort, he also directed the relaunch of the White house Initiative on HBCUs at the Department of Education. This group is tasked with eliminating any barriers HBCUs face to providing a high-quality education to students of color and improving these institutions’ ability to access federal research funding. These objectives remain top-of-the-list priorities during infrastructure implementation, as we move money down to the ground and launch projects on-time, on-task, and on-budget.
To get down to brass tacks, HBCUs and other MSIs can apply directly for over 40 competitive funding programs representing over $15 billion under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) – and beyond these programs, agencies like the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Transportation have all taken steps to encourage applicants to other formula and competitive funding streams, like states or private companies, to partner with HBCUs on workforce development, equity assessments, and community capacity building or engagement.
Keeping with the President’s commitment to HBCUs under the October executive order, the array of agencies that oversee competitive grant programs have encouraged applications for infrastructure funding that include representatives from HBCUs or Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) on project teams. This effort has been a particularly strong priority for the Department of Energy, which administers most of the available research funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and unveiled its first ever Equity Action Plan this spring with a commitment of $102 million in funding and support for HBCUs and MSIs.
And regardless of the eligible recipient, nearly all of the Department of Energy’s funding applications under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law require a community benefits plan that counts as high as 20% towards the total score used to determine the merit of applications for funding. Good community benefits plans must demonstrate specific actions – like partnerships with MSIs to meet workforce development goals and community engagement requirements – to be successful. These are just a few examples of the way we’re centering partnerships with HBCUs in our effort to rebuild the country and augment the $2.7 billion provided directly to HBCUs under the American Rescue Plan.
Billions of dollars in funding opportunities are also available today for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This summer the Department of Transportation awarded the University of Delaware and Morgan State University $4.6 million to form a partnership to create a railroad engineering program. This partnership will help Morgan State graduates lead the next generation of America’s rail engineering workforce while we implement and maintain over $60 billion dollars in new railway investments under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program that funded this investment at Morgan State via a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grant (CRISI) received $5 billion under the law, and applications for $1.4 billion in funding are open until December 1st. The Department has specifically encouraged HBCUs to apply, and a variety of other potential funding or engagement opportunities for HBCUs are on the horizon including:
- The Energy Storage Pilot Grant Program within the Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations plans to release a $105M funding opportunity announcement later this fall. HBCUs are encouraged to develop project teams and apply as lead applicants for this funding. Applicants will submit plans to develop a demonstration project that proves the commercial viability of new energy storage technology like the feasibility of microgrids, ways to reduce a home’s peak energy load, or improve the speed of an EV charging station.
- The Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Program (IAC) has already leveraged Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to increase HBCU participation within the IAC network – particularly at the community college and trade school level. IAC assessments are free in-depth evaluations of small-and-medium-sized manufacturers conducted by engineering faculty and students from participating universities. These assessments benefit the company by identifying energy saving or productivity opportunities and train the next generation of engineers, many of whom are hired after a successful assessment). If an institution is not a participant already, they can reach out to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy for more information.
- The notice of funding opportunity for the historic Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program is open until October 13th. HBCU’s can consider applying as sub-applicants on project teams lead by a state, local government, or other Metropolitan Planning Organization. This round of funding will provide $195M in FY22 to fund planning, design and reconstruction work.
- The Thriving Communities Initiative will provide technical assistance and capacity building to improve communities through transportation improvements. DOT is partnering with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide complementary technical assistance to improve the coordination of housing and transportation planning. DOT will use cooperative agreements with nonprofits or other technical assistance providers to build planning capacity – particularly on how to incorporate equity related practices.
- To support the closure of the digital divide and promote equity, states can apply for $2.75 billion in digital equity planning, capacity, and competitive grants at the Department of Commerce to develop and implement digital equity plans that increase access to affordable, high-speed internet in historically underserved communities. To develop and implement these plans, states can work with HBCUs as administering, planning, or community engagement partners.
More specific information on the available competitive funding opportunities under the law can be found here for key agencies with open funding opportunities today:
- Department of Transportation
- Department of Energy
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of Commerce
For a full list of the grant programs available to institutions of higher education, we’d encourage potential applicants to check out the downloadable list of over 375 programs under the law on Build.gov and filter by recipient.