How HBCUs Can Get Federal Sponsorship from the United States Department of Health & Human Services

By: Ivory A. Toldson, Tracy Branch, & DeShawn Preston


  • The United States Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) provides more financial support to HBCUs than any federal agency aside from the Department of Education; typically accounting for more than $150 million annually to HBCUs.
  • In FY 2014, HHS awarded $18.4 billion to Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) with $166.1 million awarded to HBCUs. Less than 1 percent of the funding HHS awards to all IHEs go to HBCUs.
  • In FY 2014, HHS awarded more than $111.6 million to HBCUS for research and development.
  • For FY 2016, President Obama requested $83.8 billion, an increase of $4.8 billion from FY 2015 to help 1) make health coverage affordable; 2) decrease long-term health care cost; 3) improve care for citizens of the United States of America; 4) train new health care providers; 5) address public health priorities; 6) assist vulnerable populations; and 7) support medical research.
  • Of the operating divisions within HHS, the National Institutes of Health, Health Resources and Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provided the largest percentage of funding to institutions of higher education in fiscal year 2014.

For more than a century, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have conducted research, implemented programs and provided advocacy on a range of issues relevant to the health and wellbeing of all people, but especially underserved communities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) supports the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ (WHIHBCUs) efforts to connect HBCUs to the resources necessary to develop and maintain first-rate health and educational programs.

In fiscal year (FY) 2014, HHS committed $175,227,288 to support 54 HBCUs and 11 predominately-Black institutions’ (PBI) efforts to increase workforce diversification and improve educational and health care access to underrepresented racial and ethnic minority populations. In total, HHS provided $18,429,409,906 in support to all institutions of higher education. HBCUs received $693,506,518 in funding while PBIs received $9,049,140. These funds were awarded through grants, contracts, services, and in-kind resources in 2014.

Investments in HBCUs and PBIs help to establish best practice models, address health disparities, provide tuition assistance and training opportunities for students, as well as grants and loan repayment to faculty. In FY 2016, HHS plans to support MSIs in the following programmatic areas: (1) research and development; (2) program evaluation; (3) training; (4) internships, traineeships, and recruitment; (5) student tuition assistance, scholarships, fellowships, and other aid; (6) direct institutional subsidies; (7) third-party awards; (8) administrative infrastructure; (9) economic development; (10) facilities and equipment; (11) private-sector involvement; and (12) other activities.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Overview

The mission of HHS is to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans. This mission is fulfilled by providing effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. HHS was established in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. HHS’s 77,000 employees work under three main branches; Operating Divisions, which is comprised of 11 operating division, including 8 public health agencies and 3 human services agencies; Office of the Secretary Staff Divisions, which provides leadership through 17 offices that oversee operations, provide guidance, and ensures laws are followed fairly; and Regional Offices, where 10 regional offices oversee programs at the local level.

For FY 2016, President Obama requested $83.8 billion, an increase of $4.8 billion from FY 2015 to help 1) make health coverage affordable; 2) decrease long-term health care cost; 3) improve care for citizens of the United States of America; 4) train new health care providers; 5) address public health priorities; 6) assist vulnerable populations; and 7) support medical research.

Specific line items in the FY 2016 budget request include:

  • For National Institute of Health (NIH), $638 million for Alzheimer’s research , $135 million for the BRAIN Initiative, and a $100 million increase for antimicrobial resistance;
  • For the reauthorization of the Health Profession and opportunity Grants, an increase of $4 million; and
  • An increase of $40 million for a competitive, value-based graduate medical education program.

White House Initiative on HBCUs’ Liaison to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

The Office of Minority Health (OMH) is the HHS lead agency on the WHIHBCUs. Dr. J. Nadine Gracia is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and the Director of the Office of Minority Health at HHS. OMH provides funding, training, and in-kind services to HBCUs and PBIs to support programs and organizational and professional development that improve academic institutions ability to increase the number of underrepresented individuals’ ability to complete a college degree and enter the workforce.

As the HBCU liaison for HHS, Dr. Rashida Dorsey works with the WHIHBCUs to organize efforts to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs through increased participation in appropriate Federal programs and initiatives. Specifically, Dr. Dorsey helps the WHIHBCUs to: (1) 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; (2) Identify Federal programs and initiatives where HBCUs may be either underserved or underused, and improve the Participation within those areas; and (3) Encourage public and private sector, as well as community involvement in improving the overall capacity of HBCUs. Dr. Dorsey is the director of the Division of Policy and Data in the Office of Minority Health. Her email address is

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

Of the operating divisions within HHS, the National Institutes of Health, Health Resources and Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provided the largest percentage of funding to institutions of higher education in fiscal year 2014.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

As the nation’s leading biomedical research agency, NIH funds research that has the potential to enhance human health, lengthen life and reduce illness and disability. NIH is the largest funder of HBCUs within HHS. For active funding opportunities, see the NIH Guide to Grants and Contacts’ Funding Opportunities and Notices. HBCUs are encouraged to subscribe to the NIH Guide listserv for current opportunities available from each of NIH’s 24 grant-making Institutes and Centers (IC). NIH offers several types of grant opportunities, including Research Grants, Career Development Awards, Research Training and Fellowships, Program Project/Center Grants, Resource Grans, and Trans-NIH Program Grants.

There are three standard due dates annually for competitive grant applications with other targeted opportunities announced throughout the year. NIH’s ICs each publish an annual funding strategy, including research priorities and award policies. HBCUs can also attend NIH Regional Seminars. These seminars help with the application and review process, clarify Federal regulations and policies, and highlight current areas of special interest or concern.

NIH provided $17,095,532,583 in funding to all IHEs during fiscal year 2014, of that funding $117,181,426 supported HBCUs and $8,192,549 supported PBIs in the form of grants and contracts. All of the funding made to HBCUs and PBIs in FY 2014, supported research and development, and training activities. FY 2016 projects to allocate $31.3 billion to support biomedical research at NIH, providing over 1,200 more new Research Project Grants that will aid in better understanding the fundamental causes and mechanisms of diseases.

An increase of $200 million has been proposed for the Precision Medicine Initiative. Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person. President Obama unveiled the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) — a bold new enterprise to revolutionize medicine and generate the scientific evidence needed to move the concept of precision medicine into every day clinical practice.

Some specific NIH programs worth noting are:

  • Research Centers in Minority Institutions Programs (RMCI) – RCMI programs develop and strengthen the research infrastructure of minority serving institutions through the expansion of human and physical resources for conducting basic, clinical, and translational research.  Funding supports institutions with health professions, health related, and doctoral degree programs in the basic, biomedical, and applied sciences.
  • Loan Repayment Program (LRP) Extramural LRP supports researchers by furnishing student loan repayment for a commitment to the conduct of biomedical, behavioral, social, and clinical research. These health professionals are required to commit a minimum of two years to conducting qualified research funded by a U.S. nonprofit organization or government entity in exchange for NIH’s repayment of $35,000 maximum per year of qualified student loan debt. Loan repayment benefits are offered in addition to the institutional salary earned for the research.
  • Biomedical and Cancer Education to Middle/High School and Undergraduate students– This program funds existing programs at HBCUs and other MSIs to sustain and expand the training and education programs to attract middle and high school students into biomedical sciences early, and encourage increased graduation of undergraduate students as well as ensure their successful progression through the education path.
  •  Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research- The program is designed to improve the diversity of the research workforce by recruiting and supporting high school and undergraduate students, post-doctorates, and eligible investigators from traditionally underrepresented populations into research internship and training opportunities.
  • Center of Excellence (COE) Program is a congressionally mandated program that creates centers within colleges and universities to address health disparities. The program focuses on the fundamental strategies of research, training a diverse scientific workforce, and community engagement.
  • Research Endowment Program is a congressionally mandated program that supports research infrastructure and capacity-building at eligible academic institutions.
  • Building Research Infrastructure and Capacity (BRIC) Program, formerly the Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions (RIMI) program provides grants to enhance the research capacity, educational programs, and curricula of colleges and universities that serve students from health disparity populations.
  • Resource-Related Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Initiative supports health disparities research activities using a cooperative agreement which requires substantial Federal scientific or programmatic involvement. The initiative focuses on bioethics research, global health, data infrastructure and information dissemination, and research on healthcare for rural populations.
  • Science Education Initiative (SEI) supports educational, mentoring, and career development programs for individuals from health disparity populations that are underrepresented in the research sciences. The program consists of five separate initiatives ranging from kindergarten through early-stage investigators and an outreach component.
  • Transdisciplinary Collaborative Centers (TCC) for Health Disparities Research – TCC programs support regional coalitions of academic institutions, community organizations, service providers and systems, government agencies and other stakeholders focused on health policy research, social determinants of health and men’s health research.

For 2016, the NIH awarded major awards to Howard University, Meharry Medical College, North Carolina Central University and Savannah State University.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

HRSA has a number of funding opportunities under the Bureau of Health workforce. HRSA provided $660,984,499 in funding to all IHEs during fiscal year 2014; of that funding $35,966,274 supported HBCUs and $753,001 supported PBIs in the form of contracts and grants. All funding made to HBCUS and PBIs in fiscal year 2014, supported research and development, training, student tuition assistance, program evaluation, and other activities.

Some specific HRSA programs worth noting are:

  • Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students – The purpose of this program is to promote diversity among health professions students and practitioners by providing scholarships to full-time students with financial need from disadvantaged backgrounds enrolled in health professions and nursing programs.
  • Nursing Workforce Diversity (NWD) Program – The purpose of NWD is to increase nursing education opportunities for individuals who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, including racial and ethnic minorities that are underrepresented among registered nurses. Grant activities and partnerships will focus on supporting education, training, licensure, and career placement of health professions students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented among health professionals.
  • Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program – The purpose of this program is to enhance access to high quality, culturally competent health care through academic-community partnerships that improve the distribution, diversity, and supply of the primary care professionals who serve in underserved health care delivery sites.
  • National Health Service Corps Outreach to Minority Serving Institutions – HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce plans to continue to engage in outreach and recruitment visits to HBCUs to educate medical and health professions students and residents about opportunities to participate in and apply for the NHSC and NURSE Corps Scholarship and Loan Repayment Programs.
  • Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Professional/paraprofessionals – The training program is to assist in developing and expanding the mental health and substance abuse workforce, who after training, will focus on children, adolescents, and transition-age youth at risk for developing, or who have developed, a recognized behavioral health disorder.

Most of the HBCU awards from HRSA for 2016 have been committed to medical colleges, including Meharry Medical College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Howard University Medical School. Notable exceptions include, Southern University Shreveport, which received funding for the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP): Skills Training and Health Workforce Development for Paraprofessionals, and Tougaloo College, which received more than $1 million for its Delta Health Partners Healthy Start Initiative-Eliminating Perinatal Health Disparities.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC provided $513, 816,419 in funding to all IHEs during FY 2014; $3,553,954 of the funds awarded to HBCUs was in the form of grants. FY 2014 funding supported research, disease prevention, surveillance, and training programs for undergraduate students through post-doctoral professionals in a variety of health disciplines.

Part C Early Intervention Services funds comprehensive primary health care for individuals living with HIV disease. Screening programs provide risk-reduction counseling, antibody testing, medical evaluation, and clinical care. Health care programs provide antiretroviral therapies (ART), medical, oral health, nutritional, psychosocial, and other care services for HIV-infected clients. Social services provide case management to ensure access to services and continuity of care for HIV-infected clients and attention to other health problems that occur frequently with HIV infection, including tuberculosis and substance abuse.

For 2016, the CDC awarded its largest grants to HBCUs to Morehouse School of Medicine to increase access to chronic disease prevention, risk reduction, and management opportunities, and Morehouse College to support an 8-week summer internship to encourage undergraduate students’ interest in minority health. They also awarded $206,108 to Tuskegee University support an annual commemoration of the Presidential Apology for the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, Alabama and promote public health ethics.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA provided $36,381,339 in funding to all minority-serving institutions in fiscal year 2014; of that funding $7,998,000 supported HBCUs and 99,878 supported PBIs in the form of grants. All funding made to HBCUs in FY 2014 supported training and other activities.

The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Center for Excellence in Behavioral Health is housed under SAMHSA Programs and Initiatives. This program: (1) Promote student behavioral health to positively impact student retention; (2) Expand campus service capacity, including the provision of culturally appropriate behavioral health resources; and (3) Facilitate best practices dissemination and behavioral health workforce development.

Minority Serving Institutions in Partnership with Community-Based Organizations (MSI CBO) Program is also under SAMHSA. MSI CBO reaches students in minority serving institutions and individuals in neighboring communities who are at risk for substance abuse and new HIV infection transmission. MSI CBO programs provide students with access to behavioral health services that are culturally, linguistically, gender, and age appropriate. For 2016, SAMHSA has committed awards of $250,000 or more to 33 different HBCUs under the MSI CBO program.

What advice does the Department of Health & Human Services give to HBCUs in order to be more competitive in obtaining grants and contracts?

  1. Attend Seminars. Various organizations within HHS provide seminars to give insight into current issues within their organization including the state of current funding; new and current policies and procedure; and pertinent administrative issues. Officers representing each organization within HHS will also be present to provide up-to-date information about various funding opportunities and to answer any questions. OMH facilitates the Higher Education Technical Assistance Project (HE-TAP) Regional Training program. The program supports institutions of higher education, to include HBCUs, through in-person regional trainings that provide attendees with training, information, and resources to support college and university fiscal development goals. Visit this link to learn more about the HE-TAP program.
  2. Get involved. The various organizations within HHS are always seeking qualified individuals to participate in the reviewing process of applications for grant funding. Working in such positions will provide a better understanding of how to compose an effective proposal, as well as more insight to how HBCUs can receive more funds.
  3. Make connections. Contact the program officer in charge of each division within the directorate before starting the application. Find out about administration priorities and application imperatives. If you have difficulties identifying the program officer within the divisions, contact the assistant director of each directorate.
  4. 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.
  5. Collaborate. The Health and Human Services recommends IHEs apply for grants as the primary fiscal agent, in addition identify partnerships with local and national agencies, regional organizations, and a variety of relevant affiliates.
  6. Ground your proposal in research. Successful grant proposals provide in-depth scholarly work and concrete action plans. Consult the program director for each division to understand the accepted validated standards for HHS programs.
  7. If first you don’t succeed, try again. If your institution is denied grant funding, it is imperative to seek counsel from the organizations within HHS to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. The agency suggests that denied applicants capitalize on this feedback to revise grant proposal and reapply in the next application season.

All institutions of higher education are eligible to apply for competitive funding opportunities posted by HHS agencies. Information on funding opportunities can be found on the agencies funding website or by visiting one of these websites.

  • OMH Resource Centercan provide tailored funding searches free of charge to organizations and institutions;
  • – can provide tailored funding opportunity searches free of charge, also sign up for email notification when new funding meeting your criteria is announced; and
  • Bid Contract – posts federal, state, and local government contract opportunities.

Opportunities are also available for individuals willing to serve as peer reviewers for grants. Serving as a peer reviewer provides individuals with the opportunity to learn the nuances of the grant writing process and the level of detail that grant reviewers are looking for in grant application submissions. Follow the links below to sign up to be a peer reviewer.


HHS has boundless opportunities for HBCUs for advance health research, practice and policy through grants, contracts, fellowships and many other forms of financial and in-kind support. Although HHS provides more financial support to HBCUs than any other federal agency aside from the Department of Education, less than one percent of the funding HHS awards to all IHEs go to HBCUs. The percentage and the total revenue of funds to HBCUs from HHS will increase with coordinated efforts between federal agency officials and HBCU leaders to (1) increase the total number of applications that HHS receives from HBCUs; (2) identify and mitigate any barriers to HBCU participation within HHS; and (3) improve the overall competitiveness of HBCU applications and proposals. The WHIHBCUs will continue to provide reports such as this, which has information regarding the agency’s HBCU liaison, background facts, funding trends, existing HBCU relationships, and agency emphasis. The WHIHBCUs is here to work with Federal partners to provide technical support to HBCUs who are interested in applying for funding from HHS.


Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., is the executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He is currently on leave from his position as associate professor at Howard University.

Tracy Branch is a commander for the U.S. Public Health Service and public health advisor to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health.

DeShawn Preston is a doctoral student in Higher Educational Leadership at Clemson University. He holds a B.A. in History from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. His dissertation topic examines the role/influences HBCUs play in assisting African Americans with enrollment into doctoral programs.