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HSIs, HBCUs Seek Greater Visibility From White House

Advocates of minority-serving institutions seek changes while monitoring newappointments to senior U.S. Department of Education posts.

Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, says HACU is recommending that Congress designate “Hispanic-serving school districts” to address K- 12 issues.

For years, the federal government has had a White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and another on tribal colleges, both of which seek to increase the visibility of these institutions among federal agencies. Now leaders of Hispanic-serving institutions are asking the Obama administration for a similar initiative focused on HSIs.

“HSIs are the only ones that don’t have that representation before the White House and the Department of Education,” says Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

A presidential order signed by George W. Bush in 2001 created a White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanic Americans covering issues from pre-kindergarten through higher education. But Flores calls it a “terrible mistake” to have such a broad organization without focusing on specific elements within Hispanic education such as HSIs.

“When you cover everything under the sun, you end up covering nothing,” says Flores, who, in a meeting with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this month, recommended that President Barack Obama sign an executive order creating a White House HSI initiative.

As the Obama administration begins to fill its senior education posts, minority-serving institution leaders are turning to the future of these White House initiatives. While HSIs seek a new initiative for their institutions, Black college leaders are calling on the administration to revitalize the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

Michael Lomax, United Negro College Fund president, says the HBCU White House initiative has languished for the past eight years. He says progress has been “anemic,” with meetings serving as “a forum to express frustration” about lack of progress on involving HBCUs in broader policy discussions.

But the Obama administration can bring a fundamental change in focus, he says. For example, new goals to increase college completion rates should give MSIs a front-row seat at the table for these discussions. Another issue is whether the White House Initiative on HBCUs should be housed within the White House or at the U.S. Department of Education. Without recommending a specific course, Lomax says the objective must be to ensure HBCUs are included in major education policy decisions.

Noting Duncan’s close ties to Obama, Lomax says “Secretary Duncan seems to have extraordinary access to the president. If the [White House] initiative is in his department, I think it will play an essential role.” While HBCUs seek to re-energize their initiative, HACU seeks a broader acknowledgement of Hispanic institutions’ growth and potential. Regarding K-12 education issues facing Hispanics, HACU is recommending that Congress designate “Hispanic-serving school districts” under the No Child Left Behind Act. Dedicated funding for these districts could support improved graduation rates and training for science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

Such a program would be open to school districts where Hispanic students represent at least 25 percent of enrollment, Flores says. That cutoff would include many of the most populous school districts in the nation, which could use an influx of resources and expertise.

While minority-serving institutions seek these changes, they also are monitoring new appointments to senior U.S. Department of Education posts. These appointments include Dr. Martha Kanter as undersecretary of education, the third-highest-ranking post, which has chief responsibility for higher education and adult education. Kanter is chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California.

The president has yet to name an assistant secretary for postsecondary education, though many say a frontrunner is Robert Shireman, a key member of the Obama education transition team. Shireman was the founder of the Institute for College Access and Success and currently advises Duncan. Elsewhere, two other recent appointments indicate the growing influence of Chicagoarea education experts in the new administration.

Duncan named Greg Darnieder, college and career preparation officer for Chicago Public Schools, as a special assistant for college access. As Chicago’s school superintendent, Duncan created a department of postsecondary education to help improve college- going rates. Darnieder carried out major policies of that initiative, including a program to place college coaches into high schools to encourage greater postsecondary enrollment.

Also coming from Chicago is Dr. John Easton, executive director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, an ambitious effort to monitor and report data on Chicago schools. Easton was nominated as director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the Department of Education’s top research post.

This influx of additional Chicago experts — along with former city school superintendent Duncan — signals a strong commitment to data-based decision making and new ideas, says Dr. Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute, an education think tank at the University of Chicago.

“There will be an openness to trying new methods,” he tells Diverse. With the new economic stimulus bill, the federal government will be making a greater investment in local education. D

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