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Forum Advocates for Enhanced Hispanic Higher Education Legislation

WASHINGTON — The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) convened educators and thought leaders from Hispanic Serving Institutions to advance the organization’s legislative agenda during the 23rd Annual National Capitol Forum on Hispanic Higher Education.

Conversations throughout the forum focused on ways to increase Hispanic representation in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector, advocacy suggestions for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) and other efforts to increase federal investment in Hispanic higher education and HSIs.

Dr. Antonio R. FloresDr. Antonio R. Flores

Dr. Antonio R. Flores, president and chief executive officer of HACU, opened the forum with a declaration that HSIs “need and deserve” greater support from members of Congress across the country.

Flores praised the federal omnibus spending bill that approved a National Science Foundation grant supporting undergraduate STEM education at HSIs. A longtime goal for HACU, Flores added that the increased funding would help prepare the new wave of Hispanic workers preparing to compete in an economy with advanced technology.

In the opening plenary, “Achieving Real-World Learning and Career Readiness: Policy and Collaboration,” California State University System chancellor Dr. Timothy P. White echoed Flores’ sentiments.

He said the omnibus bill would allow institutions to increase support for students such as Pell recipients and increase teacher-preparation and community-engagement programs.

“But, more work remains,” White said.

His policy suggestions included encouraging legislators to move forward with HEA and expanding funding for Minority Serving Institutions in order to celebrate and support the institutions that are serving first-generation, low-income and other minority students.

White also called for concrete decisions on legislation relative to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the future contributions of its “dreamers” to society, adding that they are as “American as you and I.”

Speaking on the public benefit of education for all students — higher standards of living and being a more engaged citizen, among others — White said leaders should encourage students to pursue all fields, not only STEM, because they all “yield a lifetime of economic and social return.”

Dane Linn, vice president of Business Roundtable – a national association of CEOs of some of the nation’s leading companies – said STEM and other workforce leaders should partner with HSIs to co-develop curriculum that teaches students the technical and soft skills they will need in the industry. Collaborative partnerships also should focus on providing more work-based learning experiences such as internships and apprenticeships for students, he said.

Linn also suggested that institutions have transparency about their credential and certificate programs so that students do not risk spending their life savings or borrowing loans for credentials with little or no labor market value.

Credential Engine, a nonprofit organization, created a tool called Credential Registry that offers this transparency so that users can make informed decisions about the credentials they will pursue, Linn noted.

Using registries such as Credential Engine and integrating them into recruiting and hiring practices can connect employers to students with the needed competencies, he said.

“We’re not in this for the short-term,” Linn said of Business Roundtable’s efforts to help put people on pathways to careers. “We’re in it for the long haul. It is our economic viability and our viability as a country — what we often call a civil society — that is at risk.”

Linn said that his organization is pushing for other educational initiatives including action on the Perkins Bill, the Prosper Act and HEA, particularly around work-study programs and workforce Pell grants.

And before addressing larger immigration efforts, Linn said, there must first be “a permanent fix to the dreamer challenge that we have in this country.”

In an afternoon session titled “STEM Policy, HSIs and 115th Congress,” workforce and education leaders spoke about new opportunities for partnerships between HSIs, federal agencies and industry sectors.

On the federal front, the $30-million grant for NSF’s “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: HSI Program” aims to increase Latino representation in STEM.

Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, chief operating officer at NSF, said the agency will award grants to institutions in three tracks: a “building capacity” track for HSIs that have not received high-level NSF funding in the past five years, a track for HSIs that are new to NSF and a resource hub.

Institutions looking to submit proposals for a grant should be strategic and inclusive about potential initiatives, use academic institutional partnerships, incentivize cross-sector collaboration and promote cost-effective strategies in their proposals, said Ferrini-Mundy.

“Even small amounts of funding are designed to catalyze” big changes, she said.

STEM funding will lead to increased opportunities for innovation and creativity for HSI researchers, predicted Dr. John Moder, HACU’s vice president and chief operating officer.

This is significant, Moder said, because HSI student and faculty researchers tend to conduct research that resonates with their communities. While issues around health disparities, food security and environmental change affect many people across the globe, they are “felt first in minority communities and low-income communities,” he said.

Efforts to get Latino students into STEM also will “require an ongoing look at the effectiveness of efforts,” Ferrini-Mundy said. This means that institutions need to understand what works, why and for whom, she said. “It won’t be enough to have numbers improving.”

Deepening regional ecosystems, enhancing hiring practices and rethinking how to identify talent will rove essential in bringing HSI students into the workforce, said Debbie Hughes, vice president of higher education and workforce at the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF).

The forum has engaged communities and brought together business and education leaders for “competency mapping,” an initiative where employers define for educators the exact skills they are looking for in a field.

Once this mapping is complete, HSIs can take the skills needed and translate them into new educational experiences: stackable credentials or additional associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees, Hughes said.

HSI leaders and students will meet Tuesday with members of Congress on Capitol Hill to advocate for enhanced policy, funding and investment discussed during the forum.

Moder called for a “level-playing field” for Hispanics in STEM.

“We have something to bring to the table that’s worth being at the table,” he said. “Our time has come.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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