Hispanic Leaders Seek to Create ‘New Era’ of Higher Education Excellence

Hispanic Leaders Seek to Create ‘New Era’ of Higher Education Excellence
By Charles Dervarics

An expanded Pell Grant and greater financial aid access to immigrant students are among the major themes of a new package of Higher Education Act improvements proposed by Hispanic higher education leaders.

As the U.S. Congress prepares to review HEA, the plan outlines an ambitious set of proposals to focus on the needs of students and ­Hispanic-serving institutions, or HSIs. The plan is “a blueprint for creating a new era of Hispanic higher education excellence and success,” says Dr. Jose Vicente, president of ­Miami-Dade Community College’s north campus.
Among other provisions, the plan proposes a doubling of the maximum Pell Grant for needy students. The current ceiling on the grant is $4,050.
To specifically help immigrants, Hispanic leaders want the government to allow greater access to financial aid for “long-
term” immigrant students who have been in the United States for five years and have finished high school or the equivalent.
“Hispanics are fueling the growth of America’s work force,” says U.S. Rep.
Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, who chairs the education task force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Yet Hispanics continue to have the lowest level of educational attainment of any major group.”
Many provisions would increase support for HSIs, or colleges and universities with at least 25 percent Hispanic enrollment. Advocates are calling the plan the “next generation HSIs” bill, since it proposes improvements in many programs serving these institutions.
For example, the plan would increase funding for the HEA Title V program to $465 million annually. This program provides grants to Hispanic-serving colleges and universities. As expected, the plan recommends $125 million for a new program to support HSI graduate schools. The plan also requests: $50 million to help ­Hispanic-serving ­institutions create or ­expand teacher education programs, in
­collaboration with K-12 schools; $30 ­million for a new technology enhancement program for HSIs; $75 million for migrant education; $30 million for an Institute for Pan-Hispanic International Studies and $20 million for Hispanic International Scholars and Fellows program; and $20 million for an HSI program within the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.
Another element of the plan calls for eliminating the two-year wait-out period for HSIs between completion of a Title V grant and the ability to compete for a new grant.
The federal priorities list also calls for a new category of Hispanic-serving institutions —  “associate ” HSIs with small to moderate numbers of Hispanic students. Under current law, a college or university must have at least 25 percent Hispanic enrollment to qualify as an HSI.
The new plan for “associate HSIs” would include those colleges and universities that have 10 percent undergraduate or graduate enrollment or 1,000 such students.
These associate institutions would not be eligible for HEA Title V funds but may be part of consortia with HSIs that work on education improvement issues.
The initiative also calls for substantial increases for TRIO and GEAR UP programs, as well as a new state challenge grant program that advocates say would complement the Pell Grant program.
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