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MSIs, low-income and minority students fare well in higher education funding bill.

At 119 pages, the final agreement on the College Cost Reduction Act are a challenging read. But tucked inside the plan, which promises the largest infusion of financial aid in a generation, are a series of provisions to promote college access for students of color.

The act has many winners, including minority- serving institutions that will share $500 million in new funding, and low-income students who will benefit when maximum Pell grants increase from $4,310 to $5,400 by 2012. States also will get new grants to promote college access, provided they come up with required matching funds.

“All the financial aspects that will help low-income students are wonderful,” says Susan Trebach, spokeswoman for the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) in Washington, D.C.

But the work is not over for organizations such as COE, which is trying to reverse recent policy changes in Upward Bound, one of the TRIO early college awareness programs.

On one hand, Congress did approve funding in the bill for 187 more colleges in the bill and universities to receive Upward Bound grants. The list includes many HBCUs with long-established Upward Bound programs, including Florida A&M University and Talladega College. Advocates say these colleges were unfairly denied funding under flawed new grant criteria.

“We’re delighted that these institutions will receive funding,” Trebach says. “It’s a huge step forward.”

But the College Cost Reduction Act would not yet change the underlying criteria, as some advocates had hoped. The criteria set new enrollment limits for grantees and require many of them to recruit more students than they can serve, using the extra students as a “control group” to determine the success of their programs. The outcomes of Upward Bound students would be compared to the outcomes of the control group students, who wouldn’t receive Upward Bound services.

Many House and Senate members wanted to address the criteria in the College Cost Reduction Act. But congressional aides told Diverse such provisions eventually were dropped on technical grounds because they weren’t related to budget and funding, the main focus of the legislation. During final negotiations, all provisions had to be “directly tied to a monetary gain or loss,” one aide said.

So advocates are going back to the drawing board, looking at other legislation to address the issue. Trebach says her organization is hopeful that Congress will revisit the issue when setting 2008 funding for the U.S. Department of Education or in longdelayed legislation to renew the Higher Education Act.

For now, however, lawmakers such as Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who has championed Upward Bound and other access programs, emphasized the positive. “This bill will go a long way toward helping all students who wish to better themselves through education to achieve their goals,” he says. A description of key provisions is listed below.

The College Cost Reduction Act: Key Provisions for Low-Income Students

Pell grants: The maximum grant will increase from $4,310 to $4,800 for 2008 and 2009; $5,000 for 2010; and $5,400 by the 2012-13 academic year.

Tuition sensitivity: Congress authorized additional money so low-income students can better access Pell grants, even if they attend low-tuition schools such as community colleges. This is a particularly strong issue in California, where students face significant costs of attendance — including fees and materials — even though two-year college tuition is very low. The agreement includes $11 million to help such students.

Interest rates: Rates on federally subsidized loans would fall gradually from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent by 2011. Borrower repayments generally would be limited to 15 percent of discretionary income, with forgiveness of any remaining principal after 25 years. A new loan forgiveness program would apply to many students who choose public service careers.

College access: A new college access grant program would help states carry out access initiatives that boost low-income student enrollment. States or philanthropic groups would have to provide matching funds for programs.

Minority-serving colleges: The bill has $510 million in new spending including: $200 million to Hispanic-serving institutions; $170 million for historically Black colleges and universities; $30 million for predominantly Black colleges; $60 million for tribal colleges; $30 million for Alaska Native/ Native Hawaiian colleges; $10 million for Asian Pacific and Pacific Islander institutions. For the first time, Congress is providing funding, $10 million, to non-tribal colleges where American Indians represent at least 10 percent of undergraduate enrollment.

–Charles Dervarics

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