Historically Blak and Hispanic-Serving Institutions Are All Vying for the Same Federal Funds
Plans to expand the federal government’s Title III college and
university program are posing a dilemma for African American and
Hispanic leaders in a debate that raises issues of history as weil as
At issue is the future of the landmark Title III program, created
primarily for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) but
also, in recent years, extended to include a small initiative for
Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs).
Hispanic educators and lawmakers want to expand this newer program,
a plan HBCU leaders fear may damage Title III and pit one group against
another for limited funds.
“If you can put enough money in the program, nobody gets hurt,” says
Henry Ponder, president of the National Association for Equal
Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), which represents HBCUs. The
problem is that Congress, already hamstrung by budget limits, may
expand Title III but not provide enough new money to minimize turf
“If you cut this pie more ways, everyone involved will get less,” Ponder says.
But Hispanic lawmakers call such legislation imperative to help a group increasingly at a disadvantage nationally.
“This is an important step to bring about equity for the most
underrepresented group in higher education,” says Antonio Flores, chief
executive officer of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and
Universities (HACU). “We need to create a stronger pipeline in all
sectors of higher education.”
African American and Hispanic leaders – plus congressional aides –
are talking in earnest to seek common ground and avoid a grueling
debate. The discussion has reached into the Clinton administration,
which has Called for a new HSI program despite opposition from African,
American leaders. (See sidebar, page 24.)
But participants must reach consensus soon, observers say, before
the House of Representatives moves ahead with a reauthorization bill
for the Higher Education Act (HEA) – including Title III – next
January. “I’d say the next six weeks are crucial,” one congressional
History and Mission Issues
For African American leaders, the issue is not just funding but history.
Congress created Title III for HBCUs in 1965 not because of race,
they say, but because of the historic mission of these institutions and
the discrimination they faced.
“Only the HBCUs have suffered institutional discrimination, thus
justifying remedial assistance to overcome discrimination in the past
and present,” said Dr. Thomas Cole, president of Clark Atlanta
University, in testimony to Congress earlier this year.
Though Congress has tinkered with Title III in the past, HBCUs
remain the focus of that title’s Part B. By comparison, HSIs receive
funds under Part A, which serves other developing institutions such as
community colleges. Though Congress has given HSIs a small amount of
money in recent years, the current formula does not guarantee them
Hispanic leaders and ED would rectify the problem by giving HSIs
their own new section in Title III, a proposal that is anathema to many
HBCU supporters. The plans also would create a new Title III section
for tribal colleges.
“It’s about symbolism,” says Marshall Grigsby, senior aide to Rep.
William Clay (D-Mo.), a Congressional Black Caucus member who, as
senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is
a key player in these discussions.
If Congress endorses such a plan, “it would say to people that HSIs,
HBCUs, and Native American institutions all have the same history,”
says Grigshy, a former president of Benedict College, a historically
While acknowledging these institutions evolved differently, Flores
says the debate goes beyond that issue. Title III is “based on history
and on the needs of people of color.”
“No one has a monopoly on the history of discrimination,” Flores
says, “even though some examples are more despicable than others.”
Clay and HBCU leaders acknowledge HSIs and tribal colleges have
serious financial needs. “We are in no way taking the position that
institutions serving Hispanics and Native Americans are not in need of
more support,” Grigsby says. The question, they say, is how to achieve
these aims while meeting the needs of HBCUs – and the historical basis
for the Title III program.
In terms of dollars, HBCUs clearly receive the lion’s share of available federal funds. But the question persists: Is it enough?
HBCUs received $128 million under Title III in 1997 – $109 million
for undergraduate programs and $19 million for graduate programs.
Congress also provided $196 million, to Howard University. By
comparison, HSIs received just $10.8 million, and tribal colleges for
Native Americans got no guaranteed funding.
Legislation proposed by Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) and endorsed
by HACU calls for increasing the HSI share in Title III to $80 million,
with $20 million available for graduate and professional programs. It
requests no cuts for HBCUs.
“Hispanics have the lowest college participation rates of any major
race or ethnic group and attain degrees at a much lower rate than White
students,” Hinojosa said in proposing his bill, the Higher Education
for the 21st Century Act.
Only 8 percent of Hispanic students attend colleges or universities,
Hinojosa said, while Hispanic high school dropout rates hover at about
HSIs would use new money to purchase equipment, develop curricula,
and provide tutoring and student support services for all students,
But HBCUs also need expanded Title III funds, according to Ponder.
“We’ve had a difficult fight getting money for what we already have,”
he says, noting that funds have remained level for much of the 1990s.
Earlier this year, HBCUs asked Congress to double funding for Black
graduate schools to help accommodate new programs Black colleges have
added since HEA’s last reauthorization in 1992.
The Clinton administration recently entered the debate with its own
Title III reauthorization plan. It has new sections for HSIs and tribal
colleges but only limited funding gains: $24 million for HSIs, double
the current amount but far below the Hinojosa bill, plus $5 million for
tribal institutions. HBCU programs would increase to $149 million, also
below some expectations.
Congress’s new balanced-budget plan also gives lawmakers little
wiggle room to borrow money from other areas – such as the Pentagon –
to pay for education.
Some lawmakers talk of a windfall for domestic programs from a
settlement between the government and tobacco companies, but no one is
banking on that source of revenue either. “That’s pie-in-the-sky
thinking,” Ponder says.
Requirements for Inclusion
Another key issue is the definition of a Hispanic-serving
institution, a topic that finds participants debating the merits of
race-based funding and even the controversial Hopwood decision against
affirmative action in Texas.
Under existing criteria, only 3 percent of colleges and universities
meet criteria as a Hispanic-serving institution, even though these
colleges and universities enroll the majority of Hispanics in higher
education, Hinojosa says.
An institution currently qualifies as an HSI if:
* it has a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic;
* at least 50 percent of Hispanic students are low income and first in their family to attend college; and
* an additional 25 percent of Hispanic students are either low-income or first-generation college students.
Hinojosa’s bill would remove the third requirement entirely and
amend the second to take away the 50 percent, first
generation-in-college rule. Although 50 percent of the Hispanic
students would still need to be low-income, critics say the effect
would be to base funding almost entirely on race.
“We think that’s the wrong road to go down,” says NAFEO’s Ponder,
and some HBCU leaders even warned such a change could jeopardize the
entire Title III program and leave it open to conservative attacks.
In correspondence with Hispanic leaders, The College Fund/UNCF
President William Gray said a new section of Title III with revised HSI
criteria “calls attention” to the thorny issue of race-based funding.
“Regardless of your and my agreement or disagreement with the
direction conservative jurists might pursue, it is the height of folly
to run headlong into a storm when an alternate course on calmer waters
is available,” Gray said.
One of his suggestions: make it easier for HSIs to receive Part A funding under the current structure.
Yet HSI supporters say major changes are the only way to make the government’s fledgling HSI program more effective.
“Current criteria are overly restrictive,” Flores says, since
institutions face a huge burden to collect the information now
required, such as the family income of first-generation-in-college
students. A 1994 survey by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus found more
than half of HSIs lacked such comprehensive data.
The change will allow other deserving institutions to gain HSI
status, Hispanic leaders say. Without both a separate section of Title
III and revised eligibility criteria, “the less support the program
will receive,” Flores says.
“It will not come close to doing what it should.”
25 Percent Solutions
Leaders also are using a bevy of statistics to cite the effects of
possible legislative changes. NAFEO, for example, notes many colleges
and universities have 25 percent or more African American enrollment
but do not qualify as HBCUs. (See BI The Numbers, pg. 26.)
“If 25 percent Hispanic enrollment qualifies for Title III funds,
why can’t institutions with 25 percent African American enrollment get
involved?” Ponder says.
The group even distributed a list of 356 colleges and universities
with 25 percent or more African American enrollment – three times the
number of HBCUs.
The list includes dozens of community colleges and some unlikely
four-year institutions such as Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma.
Moreover, some HBCUs have evolved into White-majority institutions
despite their historic mission and still receive federal funds, says
Reginald Wilson, senior scholar at the American Council on Education.
“West Virginia State University has 85 percent White enrollment, but
it’s still an HBCU,” Wilson says. “It’s a Black institution based on
its history regardless of what current enrollment is.”
Of the proposed changes, Wilson says, “An HSI, under HACU’s
definition, is an institution that is 25 percent Hispanic. But what do
you call an institution that has 75 percent White students?”
Hispanic advocates counter that HSIs face tremendous needs trying to
serve a disadvantaged population with just a tiny amount of federal
“Our institutions enroll Hispanic students, Black students and White
students,” Flores says. “We have a major responsibility in serving a
low-income, needy population and lack resources to do the job.”
Also, while 160 HSIs nationwide enroll 60 percent of all Hispanic
college students, HBCUs serve only 16 percent of African Americans in
higher education, he added.
Moreover, a change in eligibility criteria is no guarantee most, or
all HSIs would receive federal funds. “At most, it would allow
additional HSIs to participate in a competitive process for funding, as
opposed to the awards given to HBCUs which are formula-driven,” says
Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza in
Nationwide, only 37 Hispanic- serving institutions received any of
the $102 million in federal funds available in fiscal 1997, Flores says
– less than one-fourth of those that met federal criteria.
Will this dispute undercut traditional African American and Hispanic
alliances, both in education and Congress? After informal discussions
and an exchange of letters recently, all leaders hope the answer is no.
The HBCU community “has never opposed attempts by the Hispanic
community to increase support for Hispanic education programs,” Gray
And appearing before Congress, HACU urged lawmakers to increase all
sections of Title III. “It is not our goal to pit one favorite child
against another,” says Norman Maldonado, president of the University of
Puerto Rico. “We recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Some Congressional Black Caucus members have signed on to co-sponsor
the Hinojosa bill, including Reps. Ron Dellurns (D-Calif.), Harold Ford
(D-Tenn.), Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Alcee
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Black Caucus chairwoman, also has
spoken of the need for consensus, say aides to both Waters and
Hinojosa. “We interpret that as a positive sign,” an Hinojosa aide says.
HACU and HBCU leaders met in September to seek areas of agreement.
“While we have not resolved one major issue, a separate part [of
Title III] for Hispanic-serving institutions, most of the other
substantive issues are resolved or on their way to resolution,” Gray
However, participants in these talks declined to discuss specifics.
But they agreed more funding for Title III is high on the list of
issues for all parties, as is the need to find common ground wherever
possible. “The prevailing political climate requires more than ever
that we work together in seeking equity and fairness in higher
education,” Flores says.
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