Washington Briefs

Congress Hears Support For Completion Grants

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the TRIO community made their case for new college completion grants before a congressional committee late last month.
The plan, part of President Clinton’s budget, would provide $35 million for such completion grants, which would help students enter and stay in college. Colleges that participate in the program could provide enhanced support services to students as well as grant aid that exceeds the usual Pell grant limits.
The proposal has the support of most lawmakers of color, including Reps. William Clay, D-Mo., and Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., who have played a role in the plan’s development.
Challenge grants “would encourage more low-income students to enter and complete college because institutions would be able to provide additional grant assistance,” says Anthony Bluitt of the University of Oklahoma, who testified before the House education appropriations subcommittee about fiscal 2001 budget requests. Bluitt works with university TRIO programs. The college completion idea would become part of TRIO if enacted into law.
TRIO officials are recommending $795 million to operate their programs next year, an increase of $150 million above current funding. Included in that plan, in addition to college completion grants, should be:
An extra $22 million to fund 80 additional Student Support Services projects;
$18 million more to increase the number of TRIO students at institutions with large number of low-income,
Pell Grant recipients already enrolled in college;
An additional $50 million for pre-college TRIO programs to provide access to technology among low-income students;
$10 million more in summer work/study stipends to Upward Bound students; and
$15 million for cost-of-living increases in programs.

Health Advocates Seek Funding

WASHINGTON — Spring is when most organizations come here to the nation’s capital to seek more funding for the following year, and an association representing health professions schools at Black colleges is no exception.
Historically Black colleges and universities with medical and other health professions schools asked Congress last month for small but pivotal gains in many programs, including the Title III program that provides grants to HBCU graduate institutions.
But the organization’s president, Ronny Lancaster of Morehouse School of Medicine, also used a public hearing to urge more spending on a variety of health research and technology issues.
“While African Americans represent approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, only 2 to 3 percent of the nation’s health professions workforce is African American,” he told the House education appropriations subcommittee. Yet these professionals are more likely to work in medically under-served areas and accept low-income patients.
“For this reason, it is imperative that the federal commitment to training African Americans and other minorities in the health professions remain strong,” he said.
HBCU health schools would benefit from a variety of initiatives, including an increase in Title III funding. Lancaster recommended $40 million for the Title III HBCU graduate program, an increase of $9 million, or more than 25 percent more than current funding. This program supports 18 HBCU graduate institutions, including nonmedical institutions, he said. Two new institutions were added during the Higher Education Act reauthorization in 1998.
Elsewhere, Lancaster recommended $39 million for the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The office is helping HBCUs through a study of the challenges and potential of each graduate health school, he said.
Other priorities include more federal funding to research health disparities between Whites and people of color, who are more likely to suffer serious illnesses. Minority institutions need increased funding for federally funded research centers and animal research facilities, he said.
Lancaster also said the government should consider waiving matching requirements  and urged continued funding for health professions training, including scholarships for disadvantaged students.


Supreme Court Affirms Mandatory Activities Fees

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that the University of Wisconsin and other state-run schools can use mandatory activities fees to subsidize campus groups without violating the rights of students who might object.
In a 9-0 decision, the high court reversed lower district and appellate-court rulings that said the university’s student fee program violated the First Amendment.
Many public-college officials and campus student leaders were pleased with the case’s outcome. State institutions could have been forced to retool, or even abandon, their mandatory-fee policies if the court had ruled the other way. Campus organizations  might have been forced to rely on voluntary contributions from students for their financial support.
The court rejected the argument put forth by a group of Wisconsin students that the college’s fee system effectively forces students to financially support groups whose views they might find objectionable on political, ideological or religious grounds.
Judge Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the court’s opinion, “The First Amendment permits a public university to charge its students an activity fee used to fund a program to facilitate extracurricular student speech if the program is viewpoint neutral,”meaning it doesn’t discriminate against groups of students.
 “This decision is great news for the university, and for students and for the marketplace of ideas on campus,” says Ivan Frishberg, who heads the higher education project of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which has dozens of campus-based chapters that rely on student-activity fees for support.
Scott Harold Southworth, one of several current and former Wisconsin students who were plaintiffs in the case, says he views the Supreme Court decision as “a loss,” but vowed that “we will move on and keep fighting the battle.”             



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