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Ed. Dept. Official: Pell Grant Increase Will Benefit Minority-Serving Institutions


A senior Education Department official defended the agency’s 2008 budget for minority-serving institutions yesterday by noting these colleges and universities would be among the main beneficiaries of new efforts to increase Pell Grants and produce more college-ready high school graduates.

Undersecretary of Education Sara Martinez Tucker said new large-scale initiatives such as $21 billion more for Pell Grants and $1.2 billion to increase high school rigor would benefit not only students but also minority-serving institutions with many low-income students. Through such efforts, she said, “We’re hoping to reduce the pressures on these campuses for institutional aid.”

Tucker made the comments in an occasionally testy exchange with House Democrats about the department’s 2008 budget as lawmakers questioned plans to cut funding for tribal colleges and freeze funding for historically Black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions next year. The plan to cut tribal colleges by nearly 20 percent drew some of the sharpest exchanges at the House Appropriations hearing.

Many of these colleges are on reservations where unemployment is as high as 50 percent, said Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. “They’re a long-term hope for opportunity for low-income students,” he said. “These institutions are a wise investment.”

Even with a $5 million cut to the program, Tucker said, no tribal college would lose a grant. The department also has funds in the pipeline to launch six new partnerships. “Even with a reduced [funding] level, we’ll be able to continue grants,” she said.

Tucker noted that the Lilly Endowment recently provided the American Indian College Fund with a large grant to promote college growth and development. The federal government’s program has a similar goal to build capacity at these institutions.

Even with a lower funding level, she said, the department will work to raise the visibility of these institutions. “Our hope is to work with them to strengthen access to other federal programs,” she said.

The 2008 budget would freeze funding for HBCUs at $296 million and Hispanic-serving institutions at $95 million. But in addition to the tribal college reduction, the plan would eliminate a $12 million program to help colleges serving large numbers of Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students.

Tucker said cuts in smaller programs – as well as termination of ineffective initiatives – would provide significant funds for larger, far-reaching initiatives. The Pell Grant initiative would provide $21.9 billion over the next five years, with a goal for a $5,400 maximum grant by 2012. The administration also would spend an additional $1 billion on Academic Competitiveness grants to college freshmen who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum.

But Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., argued that HBCUs in particular face ever-increasing needs that are not well served by a budget freeze. In California, she said, the end of affirmative action in undergraduate admissions has prompted many minority students to consider and enroll in HBCUs.

“The higher education system [in California] has abandoned them,” she said. As for HBCUs, “They now have tremendous burdens on them.”

–Charles Dervarics

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