How HBCUs Can Get Federal Sponsorship from the United States Department of Education

By: Ivory A. Toldson & Amanda Washington

“Ensuring that every student—from the wealthiest to the poorest and historically underserved—has access to a high-quality education is what our work is all about…We aren’t just talking the talk; we are awarding millions of dollars in grants to help institutions better serve minority students through various programs and services.” – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan


This series is designed to expand federal support of HBCU research, programs, and outreach through competitive grants and contracts. The Department of Education (ED) accounts for more revenue to HBCUs than any other federal agency – totaling more than $4.7 billion in 2013. Any given year, HBCUs collectively receive between $600 – $750 million from ED through grants and contracts. Because of the nature and purpose of many of the grant programs, HBCUs have been uniquely suited to receive funding from ED.   The White House Initiative on HBCUs (WHIHBCUs) believes that increasing revenue to HBCUs from federal grants and contracts is vital to the long term sustainability of these institutions. By developing innovative proposals, working with HBCU liaisons at federal agencies and taking advantage of federal funding opportunities, HBCUs can increase the resources necessary to initiate and sustain vital programs.


  • The United States Department of Education (ED) is responsible for more revenue to HBCUs than any other federal agency; typically accounting for more than $4.7 billion from the Federal Government.
  • In FY2013, ED awarded more than $700 million to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for capacity building programs.
  • The vast majority of the revenue from ED to HBCUs comes from noncompetitive opportunities; however, ED invests hundreds of millions of dollars into research and programs, in which HBCUs are distinctively qualified to apply.
  • New opportunities from ED, including First in the World and The Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program, provide unique opportunities for HBCUs to compete for grants through ED.


Educational inequities that exist for African Americans underscore the need for education research programs and advocacy at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Department of Education (ED) accounts for more revenue to HBCUs than any other federal agency – totaling more than $4.7 billion in 2013. ED is a multifaceted agency, and revenue to HBCUs comes from ED in many forms. The bulk of the funding is awarded to students to attend HBCUs in the form of grants and loans for qualifying students. ED also offers noncompetitive grants to HBCUs through the “Strengthening HBCUs program.” Also known as “Title III,” these noncompetitive awards, which are aimed at building the capacity of HBCUs, account for approximately $300 million of the revenue that ED awards to HBCUs.

Any given year, HBCUs collectively receive between $600 – $700 million from ED through grants and contracts. Because of the nature and purpose of many of the grant programs, HBCUs have been uniquely suited to receive funding from ED. However, many HBCUs have challenges with locating the appropriate grant opportunities and completing competitive proposals.

This series is designed to expand federal support of HBCU research, programs, and outreach through competitive grants and contracts. The White House Initiative on HBCUs (WHIHBCUs) believes that increasing revenue to HBCUs from federal grants and contracts is vital to the long term sustainability of these institutions. By developing innovative proposals, working with HBCU liaisons at federal agencies and taking advantage of federal funding opportunities, HBCUs can increase the resources necessary to initiate and sustain vital programs.

The U.S. Department of Education Overview

ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. This agency was created in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. ED’s 4,400 employees and $68 billion budget are dedicated to: 1) establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing, as well as, monitoring those funds; 2) Collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research; 3) Focusing national attention on key educational issues; and 4) Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.

For FY 2016, President Obama requested $70.7 billion for ED; an increase of approximately $3.6 billion, or a 5.4 percent, in ED’s discretionary funding from the previous year. ED’s FY 2016 request budget targets four key areas:

  • Increasing equity and opportunity for all students;
  • Expanding high-quality early learning programs;
  • Supporting teachers and school leaders; and
  • Improving access, affordability, and student outcomes in postsecondary education.

According to the ED’s budget proposal, improving college access and completion is an economic necessity and a moral imperative. Reclaiming the top spot in college completion is essential for maximizing both individual opportunity and our economic prosperity.

White House Initiative on HBCUs’ Liaison to the U.S. Department of Education

As the liaison between the White House Initiative on HBCUs (WHIHBCUs) and ED, Jon O’Bergh ( works with the WHIHBCUs to organize efforts to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs through increased participation in appropriate federal programs and initiatives.

Specifically, Mr. O’Bergh helps the WHIHBCUs to:

  • Establish how the department or agency intends to increase the capacity of HBCUs to compete effectively for grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements and to encourage HBCUs to participate in federal programs;
  • Identify federal programs and initiatives in which HBCUs may be either underserved or underused as national resources, and improve HBCUs’ participation therein; and
  • Encourage public-sector, private-sector, and community involvement in improving the overall capacity of HBCUs.

Jon O’Bergh is a senior policy advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary, where he works on matters related to postsecondary data and accountability.

What opportunities are there for HBCUs to compete for grants/contracts through ED?

There are many programs within ED, however, only a few have grant opportunities for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs). The following link has a comprehensive list of all programs and competitions under which ED has invited or expects to invite applications for new awards and provides actual or estimated deadline dates for applications. This section outlines the programs within ED that have grant opportunities for HBCUs.

The Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE)

OPE aims to strengthen the capacity of colleges and universities to promote reform, innovation and improvement in postsecondary education, promote and expand access to postsecondary education and increase college completion rates for America’s students, and broaden global competencies that drive the economic success and competitiveness of our Nation. OPE has several noncompetitive opportunities, including Title III programs and a federal appropriation to Howard University. In addition, OPE has several competitive grant opportunities including:

                Student Services Awards

  • The First in the World (FITW) program provides grants to IHEs to spur the development of innovations that improve educational outcomes and make college more affordable for students and families, and to develop an evidence base of effective practices. In 2014, HBCUs received $3.5 million. Hampton University is the only HBCU that received a major award through the FITW competition. This year, Congress has appropriated $60 million to ED for the FITW grant competition, with a $16 million set-aside for Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI’s). Although priorities for the FY2015 competition have not yet been announced, ED is providing general information about FITW to help institutions begin preparing. On Monday, April 27th , the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities hosted “Office Hours” for MSIs interested in FITW.  For FY 2016, President Obama’s budget proposes $200 million for FITW, a $140 million increase over FY 2015.
  • Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO) are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs. TRIO also includes a training program for directors and staff of TRIO projects. In 2014, HBCUs received nearly $54 million for TRIO projects. For FY 2016, President Obama’s budget proposes $860 million for TRIO, a $20 million increase over 2015.
  • Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS) supports the participation of low-income parents in postsecondary education through the provision of campus-based child care services. In 2014, the CCAMPIS program awarded $15,134,000 to 86 projects. Of this amount, $336,193 was awarded to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. For FY 2016, the CCAMPIS program is expected to be discontinued.
  • Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools. GEAR UP grantees serve an entire cohort of students beginning no later than the seventh grade and follow the cohort through high school. GEAR UP funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students. Records indicate that HBCUs collectively receive between $4 million and less than $1 million per year from this program. For FY 2016, President Obama’s budget proposes $301.6 million for GEAR-UP.
  • Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) provides fellowships, through academic departments and programs of IHEs, to assist graduate students with excellent records who demonstrate financial need and plan to pursue the highest degree available in their course study at the institution in a field designated as an area of national need. Records indicate that HBCUs collectively receive less than $500,000 per year from this program. For FY 2016, President Obama’s budget proposes $29.3 million for GAANN.


Institutional Development Awards

Since President Obama was elected in 2008, ED has offered several grants to build the institutional capacity of HBCUs, including Minority Science and Engineering Improvement (MSEIP), Master’s Degree Programs at HBCUs, Graduate Research Opportunities for Minority Students (Minorities and Retirement Security Program), Title VII – Higher Education Disaster Relief, and Earmarks/Directed Grants. In 2014, HBCUs received approximately $11 million from OPE institutional development awards. For example, in FY 2014, Fayetteville State and Prairie View A&M were awarded grant funding through “The Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program.” Year-by-year, these opportunities vary considerably, so it is important to consult the point of contact for each opportunity to determine if a current service award is available and suitable for your HBCU. For FY 2016, President Obama’s budget proposes $9 million for MSEIP and $58.8 million for “Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions.”

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

IES supports research on education practice and policy. IES is the repository of the What Works Clearinghouse; the ERIC education database; ten Regional Educational Laboratories; national Research and Development Centers; and many conferences, publications and products. They fund research on educational outcomes for all students, particularly those at risk of failure. IES is the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, and by law their activities must be free of partisan political influence.

For 2016, President Obama’s Administration is seeking $675.9 million for IES activities, an increase of $101.9 million over the 2015 appropriation. According to the President’s budget proposal, “This request would enable IES to award approximately $60 million in new research and development grants in early learning, elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and adult education in 2016, including research focused on issues related to students with disabilities.” If fully funded, IES would have more than $200 million for educational research, development, and dissemination.

A review of data and correspondence with program officers at IES reveal that IES has not awarded any grants to HBCUs over the last six years. Recently, IES has initiated and completed several technical assistance programs to broaden HBCU and MSI participation. IES established a new funding opportunity aimed at using MSIs, including HBCUs, to build the next generation of educational scholars, through The Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program (Pathways Training Program).

Pathways Training Program is designed to prepare undergraduate students, recent graduates, and master’s students from under-represented groups for doctoral study in education research. The Institute intends these efforts to lead both to the training of talented education researchers from a variety of backgrounds and to the incorporation of diverse ideas and perspectives in education research. For this competition, all awards will be made as cooperative agreements in order to support the Institute’s involvement in the planning and implementation of the training program and coordination across programs. IES expects to support four grants under the Pathways Training Program and the maximum award is $1,200,000.

Importantly, the Pathways Training Program is only one of many funding opportunities within IES. For a comprehensive list of opportunities, visit their website.

Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE)

OCTAE both administers, and coordinates programs that are related to adult education and literacy, career and technical education, and community colleges. OCTAE runs formula grants to states and states must distribute funds to eligible local providers.  OCTAE advises that HBCUs are eligible for these grants and can compete by responding to their respective state request for proposal (RFP). Because there are very different processes to apply for each state RFP, OCTAE suggests looking at eligibility requirements on your state’s Adult Education website. Click here for a list of the state agencies for adult education.

Other ED Funding Opportunities

ED personnel estimates that in recent years HBCUs collectively received between $6.6 million and $9.2 million from competitive grants from the following ED offices: Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII); Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE); Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS); Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA); and Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS). However, the 2016 budget proposal suggests that more than $26 billion will be invested in these offices for operation, as well as grants to schools, organizations, state and local governments and institutes of higher education (IHEs). Although only a fraction of the billions of dollars for advancing education are suited for IHEs, HBCUs have enormous opportunities to link with these offices for direct grants as contract, as well as collaborative partnerships.

HBCUs may be uniquely qualified to respond to several programs solicitations within these agencies including: Promise Neighborhood Implementation Grants, Teacher Quality Grants, Transition to Teaching Programs, and the School Leadership Program.

What advice does the Department of Education give to HBCUs in order to be more competitive in obtaining grants and contracts?

Become conceptually in sync. A review of the administration’s budget proposal reveals important priorities, which should be reflected in a grant proposal. The administration’s budget emphasizes four areas: increasing equity and opportunity for all students; expanding high-quality early learning programs; supporting teachers and school leaders; and improving access, affordability and student outcomes in postsecondary education. When appropriate, a proposal should reflect these commitments.

Get involved. ED is always seeking qualified individuals to join the pool of subject matter experts they call upon to review the strengths and weaknesses of applications for grant funding. More HBCU scholars should join the pool.

For other programs, contact the point of contact.

Make connections. Contact the program officer in charge of a request for proposals before starting the application. Find out about administration priorities and application imperatives. If you have difficulties identifying the program officer, contact the liaison to the program. Here is a partial list of points of contacts within ED:

If further information is required, or you have difficulties connecting to a point of contract, email Ivory A. Toldson (, Deputy Director of WHIHBCUs.

Start early. Institutions should apply for grant funding early while also striving for the proposal to be collaborative, evidence-based, measured, and comprehensive. Build in an initial rejection and revision into the expected time between starting the application and getting funded.

Collaborate. The U.S. Department of Education urges IHEs to apply for grants as the primary fiscal agent while also identifying partnerships with local and national agencies, regional organizations and a variety of relevant affiliates.

Ground your proposal in research. In addition, successful grant proposals provide in-depth scholarly work and consist of concrete action plans. Consult the “What Works” Clearinghouse to understand the accepted validated standards for educational programs.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If your institution is denied grant funding, it is important to follow up with the specific office within the Department of Education to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. The agency suggests that denied applicants utilize this feedback to revise grant proposals and reapply in the next application season.


ED is a multifaceted federal agency that has many opportunities for HBCUs. Although ED is the source of noncompetitive revenue to HBCUs, many HBCUs have neglected the many competitive opportunities that ED has to fund research and programs at HBCUs. Currently, many programs within ED do not provide a lot of funding to HBCUs when compared to other IHEs. However, this is partially attributed to the low numbers of HBCUs, which have applied to programs outside of OPE student services programs. HBCUs can expand support from ED through rich and collaborative partnerships with government officials.

HBCUs should work with the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the WHIHBCUs to identify institutional strengths and establish partnerships with federal agencies. HBCUs should also build their institutional capacity to produce competitive grants. Members of Congress can help HBCUs to network with key personnel at federal agencies. Members can also help HBCUs connect with corporate and philanthropic partners to strengthen collaborative efforts.



Email from Broderick Johnson on the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance

White House Seal

Today, I will join President Obama as he travels to Lehman College in the Bronx, NY to speak about the importance of expanding opportunity and to applaud a new private-sector entity — the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.A group of private-sector leaders and other prominent private citizens, led by Joe Echevarria (the former CEO of Deloitte LLP) have come together to form this new, independent non-profit. Joined by a diverse range of philanthropic, community, and private-sector partners, leaders of the Alliance are pledging to work to expand opportunity for youth, strengthen the American workforce, and fortify the economic stability of communities across America.

The Alliance will join other private-sector organizations all across America to focus on expanding opportunity and tearing down barriers facing our youth so that we can truly say the American Dream is available to all.

Meanwhile, at the White House, the work of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Task Force, which it is my honor to chair, will continue to move forward on the work the President has charged us with. We will continue — with great urgency — to disseminate best practices, strengthen federal policy, and implement strategies to support communities in their efforts to expand opportunity for all youth.

When President Obama first announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative from the East Room of the White House in February 2014, he framed it as a call to action for every American to recognize that “my neighbor’s child is my child” — that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country has given so many of us.

Over the past year, foundations, corporations, small business owners, educators, philanthropies, law enforcement, artists, athletes, and all levels of government from across the country have responded with remarkable energy and resolve, and they have announced an array of fresh initiatives to attack the challenges facing our youth in new ways.

Over the course of the Administration, we have made consistent progress on important goals, such as reducing high school dropout rates and lowering unemployment and crime.

Yet persistent gaps in employment, educational outcomes, and career skills remain, barring too many youth from realizing their full potential, and creating harmful social and economic costs to our nation.

Over the past year, we already have made progress addressing the central goals originally laid out by the President’s MBK Task Force to ensure that all young people enter school ready to learn, all young people are reading at grade level by the third grade, all youth are graduating from high school ready for college and career, all youth are completing postsecondary education or training, all young people are successfully entering the workforce, and all young people are safe from violence and provided the second chances they deserve.

Here are some examples on how we are working to achieve these goals:

Beyond the work of the President’s MBK Task Force, there are now more than 200 communities that have accepted the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, committing to launching Local Action Plans with bold goals and strategies to produce results that will bridge opportunity gaps.

And, since the President’s call to action in February 2014, nearly $500 million in grants and in-kind resources have been independently committed by the private sector to attack the challenges facing our youth in new ways and expand opportunity, including a $100 million announcement just last week from Equal Opportunity Schools and its partners to increase enrollment of low-income and minority students in advance courses.

For so many of us, the My Brother’s Keeper initiative is deeply personal. As a proud son of Baltimore, this week’s announcement comes at a time of unique and special resonance for me.

As the country reflects on our shared responsibility to ensure that opportunity reaches every young person, I urge everyone to look at their own capacity to make a difference. Whether it’s taking time to mentor, tutoring young people in your neighborhood, or creating new internship or apprenticeship opportunities for young people in your community — everyone can play a role in building a brighter future.

The President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative is about recognizing that our young people are not the problem, but rather the solution. And it’s about each of us seeing our neighbor’s child as our own. Their futures as individuals, and as members of a shared community and economy, are forever tied together.

As we move further into the fourth quarter of President Obama’s time in office, our entire team is following his lead and preparing to accomplish as much as we possibly can with the MBK Task Force. And as leaders like Joe Echevarria, MBK Alliance honorary chair John Legend, and their colleagues take initiative to respond to the challenges facing our youth in new ways — big and small, locally and nationally — I share the President’s confidence that we will begin to see a future come into focus that is increasingly inclusive, empowering, and rich with opportunity for all Americans.

We welcome the newly organized My Brother’s Keeper Alliance to this work, and look forward to the progress they will help build.

Broderick Johnson Chair, My Brother’s Keeper Task Force The White House

Please do not reply to this email. Contact the White House

The White House • 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW • Washington, DC 20500 • 202-456-1111

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