By: Ivory A. Toldson & DeShawn Preston
- The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds more than 11,000 grants to support research, education, and training projects annually.
- NSF accounts for 24 percent of all federal support to colleges and universities in the United States for basic research.
- In 2014, NSF awarded $5,253,638,733 to Institutions of Higher Education with $91,230,809 of the funding awarded to HBCUs.
- For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the budget proposes $1.2 billion for STEM education activities, including NSF research Traineeships, Cyber Corps; Scholarships for Service; Graduate Research Fellowship Program; Improving Undergraduate STEM Education; and NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science).
Although Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) make up only 2 percent of the nation’s institutions of higher education (IHEs), they are the primary incubators of Black students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). According to a recent NSF report, 21 of the top 50 institutions for producing Black graduates who go on to receive their doctorates in Science and Engineering (S&E) are HBCUs. In 2012, HBCUs awarded 17.8 percent of Science and Engineering bachelor’s degrees to Black students.
The National Science Foundation awards over $5 billion to institutes of higher education (IHEs), however HBCUs received only 1.7 percent of this revenue in the most recent year of data available. Over the past two FYs (2012, 2013) the funding to HBCUs declined primarily because of reductions in the funding of LSAMP, CREST, and two scholarships (SFS- S STEM). The purpose of this article is to provide information to assist HBCUs who are interested in securing federal sponsorship for their research and programs through NSF.
The National Science Foundation Overview
The National Science Foundation’s mission is to “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense,” by identifying and funding work at the frontier of science and engineering. NSF was created by Congress in 1950 as an independent federal agency and employs about 2,100 people, including 1,400 career employees, 200 scientists from research institutions on temporary duty, and 450 contract workers and staff. NSF is divided into seven directorates made up by divisions that support science and engineering research and education.
The FY 2016 budget requests $7.7 billion, an increase of $379.3 million from FY 2015 for NSF. This increase will mirror the agenda from President Obama’s administration to support science and engineering broadly, as well as the people that are enhancing the nation’s scientific knowledge and discovery. This budget will allow NSF to continue to make investments in learning and discovery that will grow the economy, sustain a competitive advantage, and enable the United States to remain the world leader in innovation. Specifically, the FY 2016 request:
- $143.9 million to Understanding the Brain (UtB), contributing to the Administration’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovation and Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.
- $58 million to Risk and Resilience, which aims to improve predictability, risk assessment, increase resilience to extreme natural and manmade events, and to rescue the impact on the quality of life, society, and the economy.
- The Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS) to receive $74.96 million to study, design, and model how food, energy, and water systems operate through research.
- $15 million to Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES) for national initiatives to increase the preparation, participation, advancement, and potential contributions to underrepresented students in STEM.
White House Initiative on HBCUs’ Liaison to the National Science Foundation
As the liaison between the White House Initiative on HBCUs (WHIHBCUs) and NSF, Tracy Gorman works with the WHIHBCUs to organize efforts to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs through increased participation in appropriate Federal programs and initiatives.
Specifically, Ms. Gorman 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 where HBCUs may be either underserved or underused, and improve the participation within those areas; and
- Encourage public and private sector, as well as community involvement in improving the overall capacity of HBCUs.
Ms. Gorman serves as a NSF Program Officer and Staff Assistant in the office of the Director for NSF. She is responsible for tracking funds allocated to Minority Serving Institutions and for writing the annual funding report.
What Opportunities are there for HBCUs to compete for grants/contracts through NSF?
There are over 300 funding opportunities offered by NSF in which Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), including HBCUs, are encouraged to apply. The best way to gain access to these funds is to align research and grant proposals to agency-identified priority areas. HBCUs should identify the needs and requests from science and engineering communities, and congressional interests to increase the probability of allocating funds from NSF. HBCUs can review the funding opportunities for IHEs offered by NSF on their webpage (http://www.nsf.gov/funding/). Funding can be identified by either program area (e.g. biology, cyberinfrastructure, engineering, geosciences, and physical sciences) or type of activities (e.g. cross-cutting, NSF-wide, or broadening participation).
Research and Development (R&D)
The majority of NSF’s solicited and unsolicited funding activities come from R&D. For FY 2016, NSF projects to fund $4.1 billion to IHEs for R&D. Research projects are proposed by single investigators or collaborative teams. Teams are supported in the following areas: biology; geosciences; engineering; education; social, behavioral, and economic sciences; mathematical and physical sciences; and computer and information science and engineering. In FY 2014, HBCUs were awarded new and incremental funding from 64 research programs. From the 64 research programs HBCUs received $34.8 million of the $4.1 billion allocated to IHEs, making up only 0.8 percent of all funds for R&D.
- Core Research: These programs provide funding for basic research in the science and engineering fields supported by NSF. Funding for this particular category can be solicited or unsolicited. The research may focus on a single discipline or interdisciplinary. Information about core research areas and activities can be found on the seven Directorate/Division webpage.
- Foundation-wide: All directorates within NSF participate in this award. These solicitation driven programs fund basic research and education in all supported NSF fields of science and engineering. Some of the programs in this category are The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), and Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and engineering Careers (ADVANCE).
- Targeted Programs: HBCUs in previous years have participated in targeted programs within R&D. These programs are solicitation driven and cover a number of research activities looking to develop on-campus research capacity or partnerships within a region, internationally, or with other institutions of higher education. Program eligibility and requirements maybe restricted and are detailed in the solicitation. Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST), HBCU Research Infrastructure for Science and Engineering (HBCU-Rise), Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM), and Partnerships in Astronomy and Astrophysics Research and Education (PAARE) are all targeted programs eligible to HBCUS or Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and have all been awarded to a number of HBCUs.
Education and Training
The majority of the programs in this category are centered on advancing STEM learning, improving scientific knowledge, and preparing a globally competitive science and engineering workforce. HBCUs have proven to be most successful in this particular category. In FY 2014, HBCUs were awarded new and incremental funding from 14 programs, receiving $53.2 million making up 7.8 percent of all funds allocated to IHEs. This category includes the majority of programs specifically eligible to MSIs, such as the Louis Stoke Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP),and Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP). For FY 2016, the president’s budget request to Congress proposes $15 million for a new program, NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science).
Facilities and Equipment
Another area where HBCUs are more successful within NSF is in support of Facilities and Equipment. In FY 2014, HBCUs received $2.5 million, making up 2.4 percent of all funds allocated to IHEs. In total, eight HBCUs received new MRI awards. The majority of the awards received by HBCUs come from the major Research instrumentation Program (MRI). MRI desires to improve the quality and expand research and training in science and engineering, and to integrate research and education by providing instrumentation for research-intensive learning environments. For FY 2016, the budget will see a 0.2 percent decrease in funding for facilities and equipment. However, HBCUs are still encouraged to seek funding in this area.
Fellowships, Internships, Traineeships, Recruitment and IPAs
There are several programs throughout NSF that fund fellowships, internships, traineeships, and recruitment. Funding to HBCUs has supported individuals in two major programs: Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF) and Intergovernmental Personnel Mobility Act (IPA). In FY 2014, HBCUs received support for one GRF and four IPAs, bringing in $568,000 to all HBCUs, and making up 0.2 percent of all funds allocated to IHEs. The various opportunities offered through this category are vital roles at NSF, especially IPAs. Having active personnel in various roles will allow HBCUs to build stronger relationships with NSF, as well as learn a more effective strategy to receive grants.
What advice does the National Science Foundation have for HBCUs who are seeking federal grants and contracts?
- Subscribe to NSF Updates. An online subscription service offers updates on events, funding opportunities, publications, and vacancies, among other items. IHEs may customize their subscription so it focuses on activities or programs of interest to them. https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USNSF/subscriber/new?pop=t&qsp=823
- Attend NSF Grant Conferences. NSF provides a bi-annual conference to give insight into current issues at NSF including the state of current funding; new and current policies and procedures; and pertinent administrative issues. Officers representing each NSF directorate will also be present to provide up-to-date information about various funding opportunities and to answer any questions. To be notified of future conferences sign up at http:events.signup4.com/nsfnotification
- Get involved. The various directorates within NSF are always seeking qualified individuals to participate in the reviewing process of applications for grant funding. The same individuals may also qualify for IPA assignments, panelists, advisors. Working in such positions will provide an understanding of the operations and goals of NSF, as well as more insight to how HBCUs can receive more funds.
- Make connections. Contact the program officer listed on the program webpage or in a solicitation before starting the application. Find out about the program priorities and application imperatives. If you have difficulty identifying the appropriate program officer, contact the Division Director. A complete NSF organization list (directorates and divisions) including phone numbers is available online at http://www.nsf.gov/staff/orglist.jsp.
- 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.
- The National Science Foundation recommends IHEs to 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.
- Ground your proposal in research. Successful grant proposals provide in-depth scholarly work and consist of concrete action plans. Consult the program director for each division to understand the accepted validated standards for NSF programs.
- If first you don’t succeed, try again. If your institution is denied grant funding, it is imperative to seek the counsel of NSF 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.
There are many grant opportunities within NSF. While NSF has special programs gear towards minority and HBCUs, they have a number of competitive opportunities that are available to all IHEs. In order to increase funding, HBCUs must take full advantage of all funding opportunities, and not limit proposals to opportunities designated specifically to HBCUs.
In recent years HBCUs have mainly received funds for educational activities. The awards are typically distributed to programs such as HBCU RISE, HBCU-UP, and CREST, which have not seen an increase in the budget since 2014. In order for HBCUs to increase funding opportunities these institutions must broaden the participation within NSF. HBCUs must apply for more grants and research within Research and Development where they are only receiving 0.8 percent of the funds and in Fellowships, Internships, Traineeships, Recruitment, and IPAs where they only receive 0.2 percent of the awards. It is imperative for HBCUs to seek funding from these particular categories, because this is where the overwhelming majority of funds are allocated through NSF. By continuously applying within the two areas HBCUs will gain partnership within NSF, allowing for better comprehension of the language, day to day operations, and goals of NSF, this should prove to be advantageous in the funding application process.
The WHIHBCUs should frequently 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. HBCUs should develop 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.
List of Program and Program Directors
Contact specific directorate of interest
Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., is the interim 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.
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 research agenda focuses on African American students in graduate and professional programs. More specifically his dissertation topic examines the roll/influences HBCUs play in assisting African Americans with enrollment into doctoral programs.