The Senate passed a bill Thursday by unanimous consent to permanently fund historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. Federal funding had expired on October 1.
In early November, 38 senators had sent an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, urging them to allow immediate consideration of the legislation. The House initially passed the measure last month, the letter says, and it notes that the funding “is a lifeline for these institutions to strengthen their academic, administrative, and fiscal capacities.”
The bipartisan bill known as the FUTURE Act (Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education) strives to strengthen HBCUs as well as other minority-serving institutions by providing $255 million annually. The amended bill now heads to the House for another vote, according to Senate Education Chairman Lamar Alexander.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner praised the vote.
“I’m glad the Senate was able to put partisanship aside and keep our commitment to these important institutions of higher education. This is an investment in our students, which represented nearly $4 million for Virginia’s HBCUs last year, and I’m hopeful the House will swiftly get this legislation to the President’s desk,” he said.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine cosponsored the legislation and also praised the passage of the bill.
“I’m thrilled the Senate was able to find a compromise and pass our bill to support HBCUs in Virginia and across the country. This funding demonstrates that we’re committed to the students who are doing fantastic work at schools like VUU, VSU, Hampton, Norfolk State and Virginia University of Lynchburg. By keeping our promise to America’s HBCUs, we can help ensure these institutions remain strong for generations to come,” Kaine said.
Norfolk State University President Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston also applauded the bill’s passage.
“For Norfolk State University, this represents more than $5.8 million in federal funding for our teacher preparation and STEM programs,” Javaune-Adams said in a statement. “NSU expresses appreciation to Senators Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and Congressman Bobby Scott for standing with Virginia’s HBCUs, and urges the members of the House of Representatives to pass this legislation and send it to the President’s desk without delay.”
Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey also issued a statement praising the decision.
“The passage of the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (FUTURE Act) is exciting news because it provides critical funding to Hampton University, other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) by providing mandatory federal funding. These federal funds also allow our institutions to better serve our students in the STEM fields of study while on campus. The FUTURE Act is also creating good job employment opportunities for our students once they graduate. Most importantly, STEM education is crucial to the continued growth and economic development and value-added job creation in all of our communities,” he said.
Last month, Warner joined Democratic senators and higher education leaders from HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions at a press conference highlighting the importance of this funding for students. In October, Warner took to the Senate floor to call for a vote on the FUTURE Act.
Kaine also spoke on the Senate floor, calling for the passage of the act and sharing stories of how the lapse in funding jeopardizes educational programs for students in Virginia.
Alexander's website indicates that the bill funds itself by saving taxpayers $2.8 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The measure makes the federal student aid application process -- the Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- easier by eliminating up to 22 questions and the process that had required some students to verify IRS documentation with the Department of Education in order for aid to be released.
Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said in a statement, "It's hard to think of a piece of legislation that would have more of a lasting impact on minority students and their families than this bill. First, it provides permanent funding for HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions attended by over 2 million minority students. Second, it takes a big first step in simplifying the FAFSA for 20 million American families, including 8 million minority students, and eliminating the bureaucratic nightmare created by requiring students to give the federal government the same information twice."
The bill will also streamline student loan repayment by eliminating annual paperwork for some 7.7 million federal student loan borrowers on an income-driven plan, which allows them to make payments based on their incomes.
Ivanka Trump tweeted, "Congrats to the Senate on taking this huge step forward. The @WhiteHouse stands ready to sign into law!"