Delay in Awarding Federal Grants Leaves Language Centers in Limbo

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jun 23 13:24:25 UTC 2006 Friday, June 23, 2006

Delay in Awarding Federal Grants Leaves Language Centers on Campuses in



A week before the new fiscal year for many colleges begins, federally
supported centers on dozens of campuses are still waiting to hear whether
they will receive funds for the next four years. The delay in the awarding
of millions of dollars in grants for programs that have been designated as
National Resource Centers or Language Resource Centers under Title VI of
the Higher Education Act has paralyzed the centers. They rely on the
federal money to hire instructors, pay administrative staff, and train
teachers in their surrounding communities. "We're all sitting around
wondering what to do because we don't know what our budgets will be," said
Gilbert W. Merkx, vice provost for international affairs at Duke
University. "We're on hold."

Every four years, the Education Department announces which institutions
will be designated as National Resource Centers and Language Resource
Centers, ensuring them federal funds for the next four years. Typically,
it awards the grants in April or May, the directors of those centers say.
Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs
at the American Council on Education, described this year's delay as
"unusual" for a department that "has made the trains run on time." He said
he was "disappointed" that the department had not told colleges when the
grants would be made.

An Education Department spokeswoman blamed the delay on Hurricanes Katrina
and Rita, which tied up the department through the fall and prompted it to
push back grant-application deadlines for colleges in the affected areas.
She noted that the department legally has until September 30 to make the
grants, but said that the awards were awaiting final approval and would
likely be announced in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Mr. Merkx, who
oversees six Title VI centers at Duke and has applied for funds for two
more, is waiting to hear whether he will be able to hire an outreach
coordinator and a curriculum coordinator. His contracts with instructors
in less commonly taught languages are in limbo, as are speaking
engagements for fall conferences. "We're past the stage of worrying; we're
at the stage of being really concerned," he said.

In the 2006 fiscal year, the department awarded grants totaling
$33.4-million to 134 centers. The bulk of the money -- $28.6-million --
went to 120 National Resource Centers, which provide research and
instruction in foreign languages and international studies, as well as
outreach to secondary and elementary schools, to businesses, and to
government and nongovernmental organizations. Individual grants typically
range from $200,000 to $300,000 per year. Language Resource Centers
conduct research, train teachers, and develop curricula and tests in less
commonly taught languages. But more than just money is on the line for
colleges -- visibility and status are at stake as well. Colleges that
receive the Title VI designation as national centers are able to attract
the top graduate students and faculty members to their campuses.

"This is a mark that you're one of the best programs in the country," said
Mark A. Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and a professor of
political science at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Many
universities also use the designation to leverage money from their
institutions, other federal agencies, and private foundations. William I.
Brustein, director of the University Center for International Studies and
a professor of sociology, political science and history at the University
of Pittsburgh, estimated that for each $300,000 he receives in federal
funds, he is able to secure an additional $900,000 to $1.2-million for his
institution. "When you go out to a foundation, or a corporation, or when
you apply for federal funding, they look at you in terms of track record,"
he said.  "Title VI is the closest thing we have in international
education to U.S. News & World Report rankings of fields," he said.

Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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