Democrats Unveil Major College Aid Plan
Trying to seize initiative from Republican leaders, House Democrats late last month unveiled a plan to double federal spending on minority-serving colleges and universities during the next three years.
The plan is part of Democrats’ 21st Century Higher Education Initiative, endorsed by 90 members including House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. Historically Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges all are in the new proposal, which seeks to one-up President Bush’s plan to increase spending for these institutions by 30 percent over five years.
The GOP and Democrats both have appealed for support from HBCUs and HSIs this year, after a protracted battle over the best way to provide oversight of those institutions.
Another element of the 21st Century plan is a sizable increase in the federal Pell Grant, from the current maximum of $3,750 to $7,000 over three years. This increase is likely to outdo one from President Bush, whose one-year, $1 billion increase would probably add about $300 to the maximum grant, analysts say.
For HBCUs and HSIs, the proposal also includes $40 million for dual degree programs to help their students pursue master’s and doctoral level work through partnerships with other institutions. This proposal is similar to one presented by the Clinton administration last year.
The plan also calls for doubling the size of TRIO, federally funded programs for low-income and disabled students, and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) to promote college access and retention.
There is no clear price tag yet on the proposals, though total costs are expected to be sizable. Already, many Democrats in Congress are pushing for expansion of education aid as an alternative to the large Bush tax cut plan. Critics of that plan say it may take billions away from future education investments.
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