ASBMB lauds parts of defense authorization that bolster HBCUs

Law orders the creation of a pilot program to increase research capacity and improve training, infrastructure
Marissa Locke Rottinghaus
Jan. 27, 2023

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology released a statement earlier this month commending Congress and President Joe Biden for their support of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Research, Innovation, Security and Excellence Act, key provisions of which the president signed into law Dec. 23 as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The bipartisan HBCU RISE Act was crafted in early 2022 to elevate the research status of HBCUs, which are historically underfunded.

“Supporting minority-serving institutions is key to improving equity across the American research enterprise and increasing retention of underrepresented minorities in STEM,” Sarina Neote, public affairs director of the ASBMB, said. “We’re thrilled to see this bill enacted into law.”

The new law compels U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to fund outstanding scientific grant applications detailing plans to bolster HBCU research programs. The grants can be used for faculty professional development; undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral fellow stipends; laboratory equipment and instrumentation; faculty and student recruitment and retention; and research facility construction and modernization.

HBCUs are important resources that bring scientific opportunities to underrepresented groups and drive diversification of the STEM workforce. While they comprise only 3% of the nation’s higher education institutions, HBCUs are leaders in producing Black college graduates who go on to earn STEM doctorates.

The Carnegie classification is a framework to categorize colleges and universities based on research-output, with R1 research institutions achieving the greatest research activity. The NDAA-funded pilot program aims to increase the research capacity of R2 HBCUs so that they can qualify for R1 status.

The ASBMB expressed support for the original bill in a statement back in April and this month credited legislative co-authors U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., for their hard work to ensure that final version of the defense authorization included research funding for HBCUs.

Van Hollen said in a press release about the original bill: “Maryland’s HBCUs provide a quality education, a unique experience and an enriching environment for thousands of students.” He added: “Investing more in their success — and the success of our students — is an investment in our future.”

Neote said the ASBMB hopes to see more bipartisan and bicameral work supporting the American STEM enterprise and equity within it.

The U.S. Air Force announced this week that Howard University will be its first university-affiliated research center.  “This center puts Howard University at the forefront of progressive science and technology efforts,” Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick told Howard’s publication The Dig. “While the primary goal of the center is conducting valuable research for the Air Force and Department of Defense, this center is also meant to help Howard and the consortium schools increase their research capacity. I have no doubt that this work will move us one step closer to our goal of reaching an R1 classification.” 

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Marissa Locke Rottinghaus

Marissa Locke Rottinghaus is the science writer for the ASBMB.

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