WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2016 – A plan to increase scholarship opportunities to a broader array of agricultural students received bipartisan commendations at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday.
The bill – Funding for Student Scholarships for the 1890s Land-Grant African American Colleges and Universities Act (H.R. 6020) – would create five years’ worth of scholarship funding at $1 million per year for students pursuing food and ag careers at 19 universities across the country. The House Agriculture Committee had been convened to discuss recruitment challenges and scholarship opportunities for 1890 land grant institutions, but much of the conversation centered on the bill.
H.R. 6020 is the education portion of a two-bill package. The other bill (H.R. 6021) addresses on-the-job training, specifically in infrastructure, transportation, energy, and technology positions. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., the chief sponsor of both bills, told Agri-Pulse he expects the measures to attract bipartisan support.
“There’s no question that this bill will be a Republican and Democratic offer; we have set it up that way,” Scott said. “Most of these colleges are in Republican districts, so it’s very important that we have the Republican leadership on this.”
Scott also said he believes his twin-bill effort would have the support of President-elect Donald Trump.
“It’s one of the kinds of things that he personally would feel very welcome to work with us on as a way of following up on his own commitments to helping the African American community,” Scott said. “What better way than these two bills (to) deal with employment.”
Furthermore, Scott pointed out that on the campaign trail, Trump implored African American communities to “let me help you,” asking, “What do you have to lose?” The Georgia Democrat said he’s taking the president-elect at his word.
There appeared to be bipartisan support for the initiative at the hearing. North Dakota Republican Kevin Cramer – not a member of the committee but the lead GOP co-sponsor on both bills – said at the hearing that improving scholarship opportunities at these universities makes good sense.
“We need smart people who learn from (1890s land grant universities) to help us grow more food in a responsible way,” said Cramer, who has been a key Trump ally in Congress. “If in the process we serve a testimony to what people can do working together, all the more great, to me.”
Some lawmakers expressed concerns about potentially discriminatory practices in awarding scholarship funding specifically to the 1890s land grants, sometimes referred to as historically black colleges and universities. Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Dan Benishek, R-Mich., both pressed the issue, but university administrators on hand said it wouldn’t be a problem.
“We don’t see anything relating to a race-based scholarship,” Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, the president of Central State University in Ohio, said in response to Benishek. “When we bring students into our institutions, race is not a consideration … all of our students have financial need, all of them, so we’re not making any determination” based on race.
Jackson-Hammond and two other witnesses said that 1890s land grants are not race-focused institutions. Much as the admittance process is equal opportunity, awarding scholarships would be as well. However, they did concede since many of their students identify as African American, logic would dictate that many scholarship recipients could be as well.
Since the 114th Congress is expected to conclude within days, Scott said he would introduce the bills again in the 115th Congress, which convenes in January.
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