Will IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act fly?

NEW ORLEANS (November 19, 2021) – The IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act could double Dillard University’s federal funds allotment, according to Dr. Walter Kimbrough, who is watching developments closely as DU president and chair of the UNCF Council of Presidents.

The bill (H.R.3294 / S.1945) was introduced and referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. It has been read twice in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Kimbrough said he is watching the developments but is unsure if a vote will be called before the winter recess.

Introduced by U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-NC, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-DE, the bill would update technological infrastructure, support community partnerships and expand campus services at all HBCUs, according to an August press release in which Adams announced the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and more than 90 bipartisan co-sponsors.

All 37 UNCF-member institution presidents signed a letter Oct. 1 urging passage IGNITE, an unprecedented action, Kimbrough said.

Dillard receives about $2.6 million a year in federal funds, he said, an amount that would double to $5.2 million if IGNITE is passed. These funds could be utilized for campus projects such as renovations and new construction, Kimbrough said.

He urged Dillard University students and the HBCU community to visit UNCF’s website to learn more about the IGNITE HBCU Act and contact their respective members of Congress. Go to https://uncf.org/hbcuignite.

Dillard University is using funds from the Department of Education’s HBCU Capital Finance Program to work on construction in the DUALS, former 100-unit apartment complex just off-campus that has been gutted and is in the beginning stages of being rebuilt. Kimbrough said IGNITE could provide vital funds to expedite the process.

Kimbrough said additional funds should the bill pass could help with renovations in Williams Hall, which, unlike Camphor, Hartzell, and Straights halls, were not rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.

The legislation’s use on campus would not be limited to renovations, but new projects as well, Kimbrough said. The administration is considering building a larger sports arenas because Dent hall gets “packed out,” said the president, highlighting the school’s recent decision to move the Homecoming basketball game to the Lakefront Arena.

Students at HBCUs across the country, such as Morehouse College and Howard University are protesting issues with their institutions’ infrastructure. In a recent NPR interview, Lodriguez Murray, United Negro College Fund senior vice president, said, “Students are asking for the same thing that [UNCF is] asking for and, ironically, the same thing that the president asked for just a few months ago.”

Adams’ release pointed out that while only representing 3 percent of all four-year colleges and universities, HBCUs produce upwards of 17 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to African Americans. HBCUs enroll a disproportionately high percentage of first-generation and low-income students, nearly 60 percent, and outperform their peers in supporting and graduating these students, she said.