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Look Broadly for Funds, Fed Official Urges

WASHINGTON – In their search for federal dollars, Hispanic-serving institutions must think beyond programs targeted just at HSIs or minority-serving colleges and look toward broader competitive federal grants open to all of higher education, an Obama administration official said Monday.

Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, said education faces a “new policy landscape” in which narrowly targeted federal programs such as grants to Hispanic-serving colleges are unlikely, by themselves, to meet the needs of fast-growing postsecondary institutions.

“The notion that targeted dollars are the only funds available represents the old way of thinking,” he told a public policy forum of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C.

Targeted funds such as the Higher Education Act program for Hispanic-serving colleges remain important, Sepulveda said. But HSIs also must compete for funds from larger pots of money, citing the U.S. Department of Labor’s new community college competitive grants program as one such vehicle.

“Targeted and universal [funding] opportunities bring more potential for growth,” he said.

While federal education spending for 2011 remains unresolved — with the prospect of a possible government shutdown later this week — Sepulveda defended the administration’s policy of trimming some government programs while growing others. He said this approach stood in stark contrast to the “strategy of cuts” proposed by some congressional Republicans.

“We have to make sure that we cut and we invest,” he said. Among new initiatives, he touted the administration’s plan to spend $40 million to launch Hawkins Centers of Excellence that would expand and improve teacher education programs at minority-serving colleges.

Congress authorized the centers in the 2008 update of the Higher Education Act but has never provided funding to start the projects.

Under the administration’s plan, $40 million for 2012 would support grants to MSIs that partner with school districts or nonprofits to design or improve teacher education programs. Projects could focus on topics such as reading instruction, student teaching and higher standards in teacher training programs.

Teacher education programs are especially critical given demographic data for both students and faculty, he said. About 1 million Baby Boomers will retire from teaching in the next 10 years, and recruiting more minority teachers for these vacancies could provide more role models for Hispanic and African-American youth.

Latino student achievement also is essential to the nation’s long-term success in education, Sepulveda noted. New 2010 Census Bureau data show that the nation’s Latino population has grown to more than 54 million, or 16.5 percent of the U.S. population. From preschool through grade 12, Latinos represent 22 percent of all students.

“We can’t reach our goals without increasing the educational attainment of Latinos,” he added.

Despite the uncertainty of federal funding, Sepulveda said education remains a critical element of the president’s goals to increase jobs and grow the economy. “The way to win the future is to out-educate and out-innovate the world,” he said.

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