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MSIs, College Access Programs Gain in House Bill

Advocates for low-income students are hailing a new U.S. House of Representatives agreement that would increase funding for college access programs and minority-serving institutions in 2008.

The plan from House appropriators includes small gains for many key programs, including aid to historically Black and Hispanic institutions. Also, a year after the Bush administration proposed cuts or elimination of access programs such as TRIO and GEAR UP, both programs would receive small funding increases next year.

“We’ve had to fight just for the continued existence of these programs,” says Susan Trebach, spokeswoman for the Council for Opportunity in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works with Talent Search, Upward Bound and other TRIO grantees. “It’s good to get an increase. It’s a big win for us.”

TRIO funding would increase by $40 million, to $868 million next year. That’s a sharp contrast to the Bush administration budgets presented in 2005 and 2006, which would have eliminated Talent Search and Upward Bound for a savings of more than $400 million.

 Trebach, who expresses hope that the Senate will improve on the numbers, warns “The process isn’t over.”

GEAR UP would receive an additional $20 million, for a total of $323 million in funding. Officials say the increase may allow the U.S. Department of Education to hold a significant competition for new grant awards in 2008.

The White House also had sought GEAR UP’s elimination during the past two years.

Programs for Black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions would receive increases of about 5 percent under the plan. HBCUs would get $249 million, up $11 million from current funding. HSIs would receive a $5 million increase, to $99.5 million.

In a move that further reflects the shift in Congress from Republican to Democratic control, the House also rejected White House calls to eliminate several student financial aid programs next year. One chief example is the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides additional financial help to Pell Grant-eligible students.

The House plan funds SEOG at $770 million next year, unchanged from current funding. The administration had proposed outright elimination of the program.

House leaders said the measure reflects a need to re-focus priorities. “The strength of our country is not just our national security strength. It is what we have here at home,” says U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Other programs spared from the chopping block are Perkins Loans and the Leveraging Educational Assistance program. Both programs, funded at $65 million each, were set for elimination in the president’s 2008 budget.

Low-income students also stand to gain significantly from the Pell Grant provisions of the House plan. The bill would increase the maximum grant for needy students to $4,700 next year, up nearly $400.

Congress and the president both indicated they would make Pell a priority this year. The White House had proposed a maximum grant of $4,600 in its budget plan in February.

The top Pell Grant had been frozen at $4,050 for more than four years before Congress and the president raised it to $4,310 at the start of 2007.

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