- Four-year regional public universities in distressed areas could receive federal grants of up to $50 million for economic and community development efforts under newly introduced bipartisan legislation.
- The grants would go to institutions for projects to address healthcare challenges, seed early stage businesses, modernize broadband networks and improve critical infrastructure. As many as 174 institutions across the country would qualify under the proposal.
- Rep. Jim Costa, a California Democrat, promoted the legislation at a press conference Tuesday at Fresno State University. The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arizona Republican.
Regional public universities are often considered the overlooked workhorses of U.S. four-year education. Exact definitions of regional publics vary, but they're generally teaching-focused institutions that are not flagships or land-grant universities.
California State University System institutions typically fill the role of regional publics in the state's strictly regimented higher ed system — not the better-known research universities in the University of California System. Cal State frequently says it produces almost half of the state's bachelor’s degrees.
Regional public universities are also often employment drivers in parts of the country that haven't seen huge influxes of private capital in recent years. That fact prompted Brookings Institution researchers to last year propose a federal grant program focused on regional publics that would award between $25 million and $50 million to universities in distressed communities.
Public discussion often focuses on prominent universities building new tech hubs in wealthy areas, one of those Brookings researchers, Robert Maxim, said last year. Baseline funding for community colleges has also attracted high levels of support from Democrats recently. But Maxim argued smaller four-year institutions were being overlooked.
"There are way more regional public universities in the U.S. than there are bigger R-1s," said Maxim, a senior research associate at Brookings, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. "Our view is that they are really good anchor institutions to route federal investment through. They are a set of institutions that have been historically neglected and deserve a bit more attention and support from the federal government."
The text of Costa's bill wasn't yet available Tuesday afternoon. But details he shared mirrored the Brookings proposal, which he referenced during Tuesday's press conference. For example, Brookings proposed grants to be paid out over five years, and the new legislation also calls for five-year grants.
"Universities like Fresno State and many universities throughout California, throughout the country, support community development," Costa said. "They represent constituencies where we have distressed communities. They support the workforce, leading to faster employment growth along with a higher per capita income."
Fresno State would be one of several institutions within the 23-campus Cal State system to qualify for the proposed grants. The others are Cal State Los Angeles, San Diego State, and Cal Poly Pomona.