House Passes Bill to Boost STEM Access for Minority Students

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The bill calls for increased federal investments and outreach to support the institutions and diversify the STEM domain.

The House of Representatives passed legislation to make STEM education and research funding more robust and accessible to students at tribal and historically black colleges and universities, as well as at minority-serving institutions, or MSIs.

The MSI STEM Achievement Act, introduced by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Frank Lucas R-Okla., in September, passed by a voice vote Monday and moves to the Senate for consideration. 

“The demographics of our country are changing and we must do more to address the underrepresentation of minority students in STEM to keep our workforce competitive,” Johnson said during her floor statement on the bill. “The time to act is now.”

Nearly 30% of America’s undergraduate population is enrolled in more than 700 MSIs across the country. According to Johnson, the act was developed based on recommendations from a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences that indicated that MSIs are “underutilized resources” that can help boost the nation’s technical workforce and that “the STEM readiness of students of color will have direct implications on America’s economic growth, national security, and global prosperity.” 

The bill calls for increased federal investments and outreach to support the institutions and diversify the STEM domain. It directs the Government Accountability Office to create an inventory of competitive funding programs and initiatives from federal science agencies that are specifically targeted to minority institutions. The bill also requires GAO to make new recommendations to increase participation and enhance the institutions’ rate of success for competitive funding in the space. Under the legislation, the Office of Science and Technology Policy is also required to create “a governmentwide strategic plan and sustained outreach program to support STEM education and research at MSIs,” Johnson said. 

If enacted, the act also mandates the National Science Foundation to study the triumphs and challenges MSIs face in contributing to the STEM workforce. On top of awarding more funding to MSIs, NSF would be directed to establish up to five MSI Centers for Innovation directly on college campuses to “serve as incubators to allow institutions of higher education to experiment, pilot, evaluate, and scale up promising practices.” To meet the needs, the bill authorizes $170 million to the NSF for fiscal year 2020 and $190 million by fiscal year 2024.

“If we are to continue to prosper as a nation, we must do more to diversify our STEM workforce,” Johnson said.