WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – A bipartisan group in Congress is working to improve the country’s more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities.

A bill introduced Wednesday would help the schools repair and upgrade aging infrastructure, which lawmakers argue allows them to better compete with other top universities for students and private investment.

“They’re under-resourced, they’re underfunded and too often, overlooked,” said Rep. Alma Adams, D-NC.

“Give them the tools, conditions and infrastructure they need,” said Rep. French Hill, R-AR.

The two leaders of the House caucus on HBCUs want the 100-year-old institutions brought into the 21st century.

“Our HBCUs have century-old facilities with campuses where more than half of their buildings need repair or replacement, and they still are expected to compete in an uneven playing field,” Adams said.

Adams estimates public and private HBCU facilities currently have at least $60 million in deferred maintenance. After conducting site surveys at some of the campuses, the Government Accountability Office reported the schools had “significant” needs.

“This is a gap that the GAO says that’s there, that’s substantial, and that’s holding these universities back from success,” Hill said.

Adams and Hill’s legislation would provide grants to update HBCU campuses by improving research labs, preserving historic buildings and providing high-speed internet.

“Do it in a way that doesn’t incur more debt on these campuses, which has been a real challenge over the last few years,” Hill said.

Last year, Congress forgave nearly $2 billion in federal loans to HBCUs. Hill proposes using existing funds from the U.S. Department of Education or leftover Covid relief to pay for any new grants.

“So that we don’t increase money on taxpayers, but we better target the money we’re spending in higher ed now,” he said.

Adams said the true payoff is jobs in local and regional economies.

“It enables HBCUs to be a critical source of diversity in the workforce,” she said. 

Adams hopes to include the legislation in President Biden’s larger infrastructure package but is also willing to pass it as a standalone bill.

When asked about the ultimate price tag of the legislation, Adams said she would leave that to the appropriators in Congress.

Sens. Chris Coons, D-DE, and Tim Scott, R-SC, are sponsoring the bill in the Senate.