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Funding Cuts for Undergrad Programs, Research Trouble APLU

WASHINGTON — The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities kicked off its annual three-day meeting Sunday with an ambitious agenda focused on how to address the challenges that beset public education.

Many university presidents, chancellors, deans and other senior leaders representing colleges across the country expressed concerns that state and federal funding for undergraduate programs and research has consistently been cut over the last few years.

They also charge that the Obama administration’s plan to create a new rating system aimed at holding public universities accountable in the areas of learning and engagement may further burden institutions that already have limited resources.

In addition, cutbacks to the Pell program and changes to the federal PLUS program have “impacted disproportionately students at minority-serving institutions,” says Dr. Larry Robinson, interim president of Florida A&M University.

Still, at one of the largest annual gatherings of academics in the nation, there was much to celebrate. At APLU’s opening plenary session, “Transforming Higher Education,” Dr. Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY), joined Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s former governor who is now president of Purdue University, and Dr. Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland, to showcase best practices.

Dr. M. Christopher Brown II, president of Alcorn State University, was awarded the organization’s Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to increasing diversity and access in the higher education community.

Earlier in the day, a series of panels focused on a wide range of issues, from affirmative action to growing an international student population on college campuses. One breakout session included a spirited discussion with several college presidents on how institutions can better serve Latino students and their families.

“Public universities are the operating generators for many of our students, who happen to be Latinos,” says Dr. Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso and a board member of APLU, who added that new efforts have to be employed to address the country’s demographic shift.

Natalicio and others insist that institutions have to be aggressive in reaching out to Latino students and their parents.

“We have to start thinking out of the box,” says Dr. Mildred Garcia, who is president of California State University, Fullerton and helped to pioneer an outreach program for Spanish-speaking families with Univision several years ago when she was president of California State Dominguez Hills. The programs introduce Latino parents to the college admission process when their children are in elementary school. “We have to go into the community and educate families and help them understand the system. We need to reach out and make it comfortable for them.”

At City College of New York, its president, Dr. Lisa F. Staiano-Coico, implemented monthly roundtable discussions with students that allowed her the opportunity to understand the specific challenges faced by Latino students.

“We are proud of the demographics and geography that we have, and we see it as an advantage,” says Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who is president of Florida International University in Miami.

Dr. John Michael Lee Jr., who serves as vice president for the Office for Access and Success: the Advancement of Black Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions, says that the focus on Latino issues has “enormous implications for the economic future.”

Jamal Watson can be reached at [email protected]

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