At the request of the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), the National Research Council (NRC) formed the Committee on Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. The committee’s work was guided by the following statement of task:
An ad hoc committee to be named the Committee on Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions (HBCUs/MIs), to be overseen by the National Research Council’s Laboratory Assessments Board, will be appointed to examine the ways in which HBCUs/MIs have used the ARL funds to enhance the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs at their institutions over the past decade. The committee will also consider which elements among the ARL HBCU/MI programs reflect practices that are effective for assisting HBCUs/MIs in enhancing the STEM programs at the institutions and that could be considered by other Department of Defense agencies for application to their programs. The study will not include examination of: (1) ways in which the HBCUs/MIs have contributed to effective outcomes of ARL projects, nor (2) career developments of students after they complete participation in the programs. The committee will prepare a report that summarizes the findings of its review.
The committee did not review HBCU/MI programs that are funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) but administered by ARL. The committee was not asked to, and did not, review workforce-related aspects of ARL investments in HBCUs/MIs, although workforce-related considerations could be a future goal of ARL’s HBCU/MI programs.
To address its charge, the committee gathered data in three primary ways: (1) discussions with representatives of national organizations whose members include minority institutions; (2) discussions with representatives from organizations within the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Office of the Secretary of Defense that sponsor programs supporting minority institutions; and (3) visits with administrators, faculty, and students at selected institutions that have received funding from the ARL under its HBCU/MI support programs. In addition, the members of the committee examined literature relevant to the study and shared information and experiences from their deep knowledge base and backgrounds relevant to the study.
The committee was charged to examine the ways in which HBCUs/MIs have used the ARL funds to enhance the STEM programs at their institutions and to consider which elements of the ARL HBCU/MI programs reflect practices that are effective for assisting HBCUs/MIs in enhancing the STEM programs at the institutions. The examination therefore focused on the practices whereby ARL administers its support to HBCU/MI institutions and the practices by which those institutions secure and apply that support to enhance their STEM programs. ARL provided to the committee detailed descriptions of available programs and processes whereby they are administered, as well as detailed quantitative data describing the recipients of support under each of its programs, including the funding level in each year for each institution and investigator supported. The HBCU/MI institutions visited by the committee were asked to describe their processes for securing support, administering programs and projects, and using the support to enhance their STEM programs. These institutions provided informative discussions pertinent to these issues, and they often supported their descriptions with anecdotes indicating their perceptions of successes and challenges with respect to STEM enhancement and ARL processes.
The institutions did not provide the committee with detailed quantitative data, including data on the career outcomes of the principal investigators supported in their programs, that could be subjected to analysis, and no such quantitative data relating to ARL programs for these institutions were available in the literature.
TOWARD A MORE DIVERSE, EFFECTIVE, AND EFFICIENT U.S. SCIENTIFIC WORKFORCE
The primary goal of Army Research Laboratory programs to fund and support research is to improve the combat readiness, efficiency, and survivability of U.S. warfighters by developing and deploying technologies that will serve that basic imperative. How do ARL programs that support investigators and programs at HBCU/MIs further the fundamental goals of improving U.S. warfighting capabilities? In the current technologically innovative era, the answer is straightforward: The United States must have a strong and expanding intellectually talented and practically trained workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Underrepresented minorities (URMs) account for a growing share of the overall U.S. population, and even though historically black colleges and universities and colleges and universities that serve other minorities are relatively few in number in the overall universe of U.S. colleges and universities, they continue to enroll a disproportionate share of minority students. These institutions are critical to the education and scientific and technical training of the minority engineers, mathematicians, and scientists on which the military depends for effective warfighting technologies. HBCU/MI universities are one of the ways the United States, including the Army and other military departments, can ensure a fully mobilized, diverse workforce.
In turn, the recruitment and effective education of intellectually talented students requires strong, dynamic academic institutions. The capabilities of colleges and universities matter as much as the credentials of the students they enroll. Effective science and technology education at HCBUs/MIs depends on the capacity of these institutions to attract and retain capable faculty, gifted undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, providing them with appropriate facilities and infrastructure to support their scientific activities. ARL has contributed to building up the human and infrastructural capacities of HBCUs/MIs in the past, and the committee has looked for ways to enhance ARL’s program impact on institution building in the future, confident that more capable HBCUs/MIs will, in turn, help America as a whole develop a more diverse and intellectually capable STEM workforce.
ARL has used its very limited—and currently declining—financial resources to have a positive impact on HBCU/MI institutional capabilities. The ARL annual budget from Army sources and from work it does for others is approximately $1.3 billion, of which approximately $700 million is Army research and development funding; the rest may be generally characterized as reimbursable work for other agencies. The average annual ARL support for all HBCU/MI programs has been approximately $11 million annually over fiscal years FY2011 through FY2013.
ARL grants and programs have helped to jump-start and build technical infrastructure and have encouraged the enrichment of STEM curricular offerings and graduate student training opportunities. ARL programs have also helped to raise faculty and student morale, provided invaluable opportunity for productive scholarship, and increased the number of intellectually talented STEM graduates. The U.S. Army needs an enlarged STEM-based workforce, and even with limited resources ARL can do a great deal to meet that overriding need by devising and deploying more effective grants and support for research and development at HBCUs/MIs. ARL programs in support of HBCUs/MIs will prove most effective if they place their primary emphasis on enhancing institutional capacities for STEM disciplines in those institutions.
Overall, the ARL programs supporting HBCUs/MIs are strong, well run, and commendable. These programs have, over many years, provided support to many HBCU/MI individual researchers and institutions, administered through a variety of programs accessible to HBCU/MI researchers and institutions and reported by recipients to be helpful in their development and expansion of STEM
programs. Within the narrow confines of the committee’s tasking—that is, examining institutional STEM improvements at HBCUs/MIs as a result of ARL funding—the existing strong program can be made even stronger.
ARL funding levels to engage and support STEM capabilities at HBCUs/MIs are not substantial in amount, relative to the size of ARL total annual funding or in absolute terms, and are declining. It has become increasingly necessary, therefore, for ARL to consider carefully its strategies for allocating funds to and across these institutions and to regularly and systematically assess the impact of its support on the successful development, maintenance, and growth of the STEM programs at these institutions. However, neither the Army nor, specifically, ARL, has put in place written directives or a strategic plan for supporting HBCUs/MIs or for assessing the impacts of that support. A successful strategy will include, for example, a reasoned, balanced, and effective allocation of support for single principle investigator research and longer-term collaborative programs that encourage institution building, interactions with other institutions and funding agencies, and support of students through completion of degrees. Involving HBCUs/MIs in collaborative programs cannot be effective unless ARL applies a proactive management to ensure that HBCUs/MIs are provided with meaningful and sufficient levels of tasking and funding within those programs. A more effective support program will also include systematic mentorship whereby ARL educates HBCUs/MIs as needed with respect to the processes of proposal development, project and program implementation, and administration. To be most effective, mentoring would extend beyond ARL, but with ARL support, so that successful institutions, HBCU/MI and non-HBCU/MI, help to educate fledgling HBCUs/MIs in the STEM institution-building process. Of course, it is important for HBCUs/MIs to take advantage of opportunities, not only for funding, but also for learning the collaborative and institution-building processes as they aspire to the levels of success demonstrated by other HBCUs/MIs and other high-performing research institutions.
It is disconcerting that the majority of principal investigators supported by ARL HBCU/MI programs have not been underrepresented minorities (URMs). Over the past 10 years, the numbers and percentages of the 220 principal investigators funded by ARL HBCU/MI programs have been: 102 (46 percent) Caucasians, 14 (6 percent) African Americans, 11 (5 percent) Hispanics, 47 (21 percent) Middle Eastern and South Asians, 46 (21 percent) East Asians, and 0 Native Americans.
There is a dearth of URM researchers at HBCUs/MIs in STEM fields relevant to ARL activities. Over the past 20 years, many URM faculty have left HBCUs/MIs and joined nonminority institutions, and there is a tendency for recent URM graduates with Ph.D.’s in STEM fields to join the faculty at nonminority institutions. Given the constraints on available URM faculty at HBCUs/MIs, ARL’s funding of non-URM researchers at these institutions has helped to build institutional STEM capabilities at the institutions.
However, one indicator of the success of ARL programs supporting HBCUs/MIs will be an increase in URM STEM researchers, including those who receive ARL support for research that contributes to ARL’s mission to contribute to the development of technologies that enhance the safety and effectiveness of Army warfighters—a primary requirement for ARL funding. To achieve this goal, it is first necessary that ARL make every effort to assure that ARL opportunities are widely known to HBCU/MI researchers, including those who have not participated in ARL-funded programs. It will also be necessary for ARL to support the students and postdoctoral researchers who will grow the ranks of future minority faculty and to help the institutions attract and retain the minority faculty. These concerns are among those reflected in the recommendations presented in this report.
The recommendations that follow are presented in the spirit of helping to make a strong ARL program supporting HBCUs/MIs even stronger and of helping commendably vibrant HBCUs/MIs continue to build their institutions’ STEM capabilities. Additional recommendations are also provided in the final chapter of the report:
1. ARL should create and disseminate a policy directive regarding its commitment and priorities for a credible and sustainable HBCU/MI support program. Specifically, ARL should articulate a vision and write a strategy to enhance STEM capability within its HBCU/MI-supported community and develop metrics to measure STEM capability improvement; metrics should include progress toward independence, including expanded funding relationships with other funding agencies.
2. ARL should examine the funding of collaborative projects involving HBCUs/MIs and non-HBCUs/MIs to ensure that the funding is equitable and that the tasking takes advantage of HBCU/MI capabilities. ARL should require HBCU/MI participants in ARL-funded collaborative, cooperative agreement projects to provide to ARL regular reports on their experiences with the project planning, execution, management, funding, and other collaborative interactions with the sponsoring ARL program manager and other participants in the collaboration team.
3. ARL should regularly assess which HBCU/MI activities have the most successful impact on the development, maintenance, and growth of their STEM programs and should rebalance funding according to those assessments.
4. ARL should consider NIH, NSF, and other URM funding incentive models in allocating support, from within its HBCU/MI funds, for URM U.S. citizen undergraduate and graduate research students, summer interns, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty researchers.
5. ARL should proactively engineer the participation of its HBCUs/MIs in multiyear cooperative agreements to ensure that there is adequate funding and time for those institutions to gain access to and procure equipment, support the completion of graduate and undergraduate student research, arrange for onsite or virtual internships with ARL laboratories and other laboratories, and develop the capacity to respond to redirection of funded research tasks by ARL program managers. As long as ARL continues its University-Affiliated Research Center (UARC) programs, it should regularly consider HBCUs/MIs for UARC designation or for formal partnerships with existing Army UARCs based on continual adequate technical performance and extant STEM talent and physical capabilities.
6. With HBCUs/MIs in mind, ARL should review its core and cooperative agreement Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) processes to minimize administrative burdens on university respondents and should, with input from HBCUs/MIs, consider mentoring opportunities to enable more awareness of and success in responding to BAA opportunities.
7. ARL should gather best practices from other agencies in order to design models of funding that systematically connect and integrate single principal investigator research at HBCUs/MIs, with the efforts carried out by multi-institutional research teams, to facilitate institution building and the development of entrepreneurial scientific leadership at the HBCUs/MIs.
8. The HBCUs/MIs should pursue more ARL-supported collaborative research funding. Led by faculty and institutional leadership, HBCUs/MIs should engage in research opportunities that include collaborative grants and contracts as well as single investigator research and development.
9. The HBCUs/MIs should continuously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their offices of sponsored programs that assist their faculty in execution of ARL-supported research programs both on and off campus.
10. The HBCUs/MIs should expand their ARL-supported research by partnering with local industry and international sources. The HBCUs/MIs should build relationships with foundations wherein foundational resources are combined with ARL resources to extend the research portfolios of the HBCUs/MIs.