House Approves Major Funding Increase For HBCUs

Citing
the need for a dramatic funding increase, the House of Representatives has
approved a plan to raise Black college funding by $125 million next year – 40
percent more than the current budget.

The chamber approved the plan as an
amendment to the Education Department’s 2008 funding bill that members have
been debating on the House floor much of this week. Of the new funding, $100
million would be divided among eligible HBCUs and $25 million would go to HBCU
graduate institutions.

As originally written, the 2008 education
bill had a 4 percent increase for HBCUs and graduate institutions. “That is not
enough,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. “They need help, they need help now, and
they need large amounts of help.”

The original plan earmarked $307 million
for HBCUs and graduate programs. If enacted into law, the amendment would
increase that amount to $432 million.

HBCUs have received only nominal
increases in recent years, said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “We need to fund
these schools at a higher level,” he said. “The need has become greater and
greater. These are students who need educational opportunities to move out and
into the American dream.”

“There is still a critical need in this
country for historically Black colleges and universities,” Cohen added.

Lawmakers would pay for the bill by
cutting the U.S. Department of Education’s administrative funds by $125
million. That could pose a hardship for the department, sponsors acknowledged,
but said they needed to find some offsetting funds. A House/Senate conference
committee ultimately will settle details of a final spending bill later this
year.

The House was laboring to finish
work on the education spending bill yesterday, continuing to debate many
amendments to the measure. Another amendment added on the floor would prevent
the Education Department from undertaking a controversial evaluation of Upward
Bound, a federal TRIO program.

ED’s plan would require grantees to
recruit twice as many students as their programs could serve, with some
students randomly assigned to a comparison group receiving no services.
Advocates say such a plan is unfair to low-income students and would undermine
Upward Bound’s credibility.

Overall, the bill would increase
overall TRIO funding by $40 million, to $868 million next year.
Hispanic-serving institutions would receive $99.5 million, up $5 million.

The measure also would increase the
maximum Pell Grant to $4,700 next year, an increase of $390 above the current
grant level.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate
opened debate on a bill with significant changes in higher education. The
measure would cut subsidies to lenders and use most of the proceeds to increase
financial aid programs. Lenders were working to soften some of these
provisions, one advocate said, while other groups were mobilizing against such
an effort.

“We want members to vote against
any weakening amendments,” said Rebecca Thompson, legislative director for the
U.S. Student Association.

– Charles Dervarics

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