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HEA Bill Passes, Despite White House Objection Over MSI Funding

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Higher Education Act bill even as the White House criticized some of its provisions, including two to boost support for minority-serving institutions.

As members worked through a series of amendments before final passage, lawmakers and the Bush administration sparred over provisions affecting historically Black colleges and Hispanic-serving postsecondary institutions.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House said it is “concerned that many of the bill’s new federal programs would prioritize or restrict eligibility to institutions or groups defined by racial or ethnic criteria, including express racial enrollment quotas. These provisions raise significant constitutional concerns under the equal protection component of the due process clause.”

Among other provisions in the bill, the House would authorize new aid to 21 HBCUs and HSIs for their graduate programs. Those eligible for aid would include Coppin State University, Fisk University, Alcorn State University and Savannah State University as well as the City University of New York – York College and Long Island University-Brooklyn.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Tex., chair of the House postsecondary education subcommittee, long have cited increased aid to graduate programs at Hispanic-serving institutions as a key priority in HEA reauthorization. “With the passage of this legislation we will be one step closer to enacting this long-overdue program,” he said.

The bill also contains a much-debated plan to provide technology aid to HBCUs, HSIs and tribal colleges. While that bill has never cleared both houses of Congress on its own, its presence in the HEA bill may present its best opportunity for enactment.

Hinojosa rejected the administration’s criticism, noting that President Bush last fall signed legislation, the College Cost Reduction Act, that authorized another $500 million for MSIs.

“Now, only a few months later, he decides to raise the issue of constitutionality? He needs to decide what side of the fence he’s on because clearly his argument holds no water based on his prior actions,” Hinojosa said.

Despite White House criticism, the HEA reauthorization bill enjoys bipartisan support, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “It’s a near-veto threat,” he told Diverse.

Even after the criticism, however, the full House approved the bill by a veto-proof majority of 354-58.

The White House seemed to take a staunchly conservative approach on the issue of aid to minority students and college, he said. “It seems like a catch-all objection to anything having to do with minority education,” Nassirian added.

The administration also said it objected to the bill because it would create “four dozen new, costly and duplicative federal programs” and restrict the Education Department’s authority to regulate accreditation.

Among other provisions, a bill incorporated into HEA formally known as the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, would increase the Pell Grant maximum to $9,000. It also would:

n       Provide consumers with more information about college pricing;

n       Require colleges and lenders to adopt codes of conduct for student loans;

n       Provide students with advance information on college textbook prices;

n       Allow year-round Pell Grants;

n       Extend GEAR UP and TRIO programs; and

n       Expand college support services for students with disabilities.


 –Charles Dervarics

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