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Minority-Serving Institutions Seek Long-Term Funding Increases

Advocates seek additional funding through a couple of bills under consideration in Congress.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas

With a short-term federal funding increase set to expire soon, minority- serving institutions and their advocates on Capitol Hill are moving on several fronts to make permanent at least some of these valuable gains.

In a fiscal 2010 education appropriations bill and the newly proposed Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, advocates are seeking to consolidate increases achieved in 2007. At that time, the College Cost Reduction Act steered an extra $500 million to minority-serving institutions — in addition to regular appropriations — with the proviso that the additional funding would end in 2009.

Since President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January, groups representing historically Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges have sought to extend that short-term funding. Organizations say the need for long-term extra funding is significant given the effects of the recession on colleges.

While the Obama White House has endorsed only small increases for these colleges, Congress is taking steps to extend the large investments approved in 2007.

One potential solution is the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which would provide MSIs with a guaranteed $255 million in annual supplemental funding for the next 10 years. The bill also would fund large Pell Grant increases into the future. Congress would pay for these initiatives through savings generated from a phaseout of bank-based student loans in favor of government-run Direct Loans.

“This bill accomplishes something we can all be proud of,” says Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, DTexas, chairman of the House post-secondary education subcommittee. “The bill will streamline the fi nancial aid application process and increase funding for Pell Grants and minority-serving institutions while also helping lower our national defi cit.”

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, called it a landmark bill that would “put students before banks” in federal highereducation policy. Overall, the measure would channel $87 billion into long-term education investments, including MSIs, Pell Grants, college completion grants and other initiatives.

But the measure faces opposition from House Republicans, who argue that the switch to Direct Loans won’t generate the type of savings envisioned by Democrats.

“We’ve known all along that eliminating the private sector from student lending would cost students and schools the benefi ts of choice, competition, and innovation,” says Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., senior Republican on the Education and Labor Committee. A new analysis by the Congressional Budget Offi ce, he adds, shows the move will generate far less savings than some projections.

As a result, much of the $87 billion in the new bill will just increase the amount of federal red ink.

“Now, we learn it will cost taxpayers as well, contributing billions to the defi cit,” he says.

Miller called the Republican comments “desperate,” and aides said the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act is likely to come up for a fi nal vote in the House soon.

A second front for the MSI funding battle is in House and Senate appropriations committees, where lawmakers are beginning to write line-by-line fi scal 2010 funding recommendations for hundreds of federal education programs. These institutions have won some gains in a House spending bill, just approved on the floor.

Under that measure, the federal government’s main HBCU program would receive an increase of $45 million, for total funding of $283 million next year. HSIs would get $136 million, a $43 million increase. Both levels are above the recommendations of the Obama administration earlier this year.

Tribal colleges would receive a 50 percent funding increase, to $36 million, under the measure. Native American serving nontribal institutions — colleges that lack a tribal designation but still serve signifi cant numbers of Native American students — would receive $4.5 million as a new federal program.

The appropriations bill also would fund increases for graduate programs at MSIs. Historically Black graduate institutions would receive $61.4 million in new funds, a $3 million increase from the current level. HSIs offering post-baccalaureate programs would receive at least $10.5 million — another new program added to the Higher Education Act.

Predominantly Black colleges also would receive $13.7 million under the 2010 appropriations bill. The last HEA reauthorization bill created a new pot of money for these institutions as well.

House lawmakers also were trumpeting a provision that would double federal spending on the HBCU capital financing program. The bill would provide $20 million next year for this program, which helps make capital available for repairs and renovations at Black colleges.

Elsewhere, the House spending bill includes a $200 increase in the maximum Pell Grant, for a top grant of $5,550 next year. The budgets for college access programs GEAR UP and TRIO would increase to $333 million and $868 million, respectively. They each would received increases of $20 million.

The bill also contains $50 million for a new high school graduation initiative targeted at so-called “dropout factories.”

The full House approved the appropriations bill in July by a vote of 264-153. The Senate is just beginning work on its 2010 education spending bill. The goal is for both chambers to agree to a fi nal bill prior to the start of the new fi scal year Oct. 1.

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