United We Stand
NAFEO, HACU, and AIHEC have formed a new alliance to improve support for students of color
WASHINGTON — The old divide-and-conquer ploy may be harder to execute on future racial politics of higher education now that a new alliance has been formed between three of the largest organizations serving the needs of minority students.
In a first-of-its-kind effort, the new Alliance for Equity in Higher Education will promote the interests of 175 Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), 118 historically Black (HBCUs) and predominantly Black institutions, and 31 Tribal colleges and universities. Combined, these colleges educate 42 percent of Hispanic students, 24 percent of African American students, and 16 percent of Native American students.
The alliance’s founding members are the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).
Gil Kline, the alliance’s media coordinator, says the group was formed after “seeing the inequities between the long running success of these institutions and the disparity in funding for these institutions.”
According to the new group’s Web site, located at <www.ihep.com/alliance>, “The Alliance for Equity in Higher Education promotes greater collaboration and cooperation among colleges and universities that serve large numbers of students of color in order to enhance the nation’s economic competitiveness, social stability, and cultural richness.”
And just how badly is this collaboration needed?
“Various entities have tried to keep us [minority groups] divided and that hasn’t been very helpful. We’ve been competing for the same crumbs,” says Robert Chiago, programs manager at AIHEC. “Maybe by working cooperatively, we’ll have a better opportunity to get our points across.”
“The main goal of the alliance is to speak with one voice on an array of issues that matter to HBCUs, Tribal colleges, and HSIs,” says Dr. Jamie Merisotis, the president of the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP), which is currently coordinating the alliance’s activities. “There haven’t been enough opportunities for collaboration between these groups. The alliance provides a vehicle for 320 colleges and universities who have common goals to work together.
“The alliance points out that the demographic profile of the nation is changing — rapidly changing,” Merisotis continues, “and the need for this collaboration is essential for the economic and social and cultural needs of the country’s future.”
A briefing paper on the alliance notes the high percentage of students of color coming from the lowest income quartile — 41 percent of Native American, 41 percent of Black, and 38 percent of Hispanic undergraduates come from families in the lowest income quartile, compared to 19 percent of White students. And by 2015, college enrollments are expected to increase by 5 percent for Whites, compared to 23 percent for African Americans and 73 percent for Hispanics.
The paper also points out that the percentage of African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher is dramatically lower — 15 percent, 11 percent, and 9 percent, respectively — than for Whites, 25 percent. Additionally, high school completion rates for students of color — especially for Hispanics and American Indians — are significantly lower than for Whites. “HACU can benefit just by the fact that it will be an effort to move policy and legislation from an broader perspective,” says Dr. Gumecindo Salas, HACU’s vice president for government relations. “By combining our three large minority groups, we are dealing with a population that is much larger, more widely dispersed throughout the country, and with a wider Congressional base— and that includes in the Senate, where there is Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell— [a Native American Republican] from Colorado.”
There is also another consideration. According to the alliance, average in-state undergraduate tuition fees for its member institutions were 30 percent lower than for all of the nation’s colleges and universities. Total institutional revenues — from all sources —- at member institutions are 36 percent lower than the U.S. average institutions. Endowment revenue for member colleges average $68 per student, compared to $457 per student at all postsecondary institutions. And, average faculty salaries are approximately 10 percent lower at member colleges than at all postsecondary institutions.
The alliance does have specific goals to address these discrepancies, according to its mission statement. To ensure student access, success, and equal opportunity, it will seek to increase student financial assistance, and promote fair and inclusive college admission standards and requirements. The alliance will also look for ways to raise the numbers of students of color in science and technology fields, and increase enrollment and graduation rates. There are also plans for expanding student counseling, mentoring, and support efforts, and improving student testing and diagnostic systems.
Teacher preparation and faculty development and leadership are also top priorities. The alliance is formulating teacher preparation and recruitment strategies that would increase the numbers of advanced degree recipients from underrepresented groups, expand professional development opportunities, broaden K-12 linkages, support institutional leaders, and develop community leadership.
To strengthen institutional development, the alliance hopes to improve and expand physical infrastructures, increase access to and use of technology, raise endowment levels, and enhance the capacity for curriculum development and innovation.
For Tribal colleges, the alliance is particularly appealing — especially when you consider that Native Americans comprise approximately 2 percent of the nation’s population, according to AIHEC’s Chiago.
“One of the main things we hope to get from this alliance is reinforcements for the needs that we have within our Tribal colleges in term of advocacy,” he says. “By becoming a member of the alliance, we substantially increase our numbers and visibility.”
And Chiago believes AIHEC will pull its own weight within the alliance, noting the government-to-government relationship between the Native American tribes, which run the Tribal colleges, and the federal government.
“The relationship that we have with the federal government is a historical and legal relationship,” he says. “We get information [from the federal government] that other alliance members may not be getting, and I anticipate we’ll be sharing that information.”
The alliance is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. And although IHEP currently coordinates the effort, there are discussions occurring that would give a more permanent shape to the alliance’s organizational structure. According to Merisotis, a working group of presidents and their staffs from the three member associations have been meeting “almost weekly” for the past three months. But he says that will eventually give way to some form of governing panel that will most likely include a “subset of the executive committees of the three organizations so that there is continual involvement of institutional presidents in the management of the alliance.”
“We want to develop as inclusive a structure as possible,” he says.
And Merisotis acknowledges that there will be conflicts between the three groups.
“There will be times when the groups don’t agree and the alliance will act as a point of dialogue and convening for the three sets of institutions so that they can talk about the areas where there are differences or potential conflict,” he says.
But that potential doesn’t seem to be much cause for concern for AIHEC.
“[The alliance] will be a very positive thing depending upon how it is actually fully implemented,” Chiago says. “Many of our needs are the same needs of the other organizations” in the alliance, he adds. “We all have large numbers of people from economically depressed types of situations.… There is still plenty of discrimination in higher education.”
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