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Washington update – major topics of 1996 that concern the academic world

Reauthorization On the Horizon

The actual debate is six months away, but college and university leaders already are floating ideas to reform financial aid and other programs under the Higher Education Act (HEA).

HEA comes up for reauthorization in Congress next year, and some advocates say the debate could drag well into 1998. The November elections will play a crucial role, with the higher education community likely to face a whole new set of lawmakers than they dealt with during the last review in 1992.

High on the list of issues for historically Black colleges and universities is continued support for HEA’s Title III, which contains more than $100 million in funding for HBCU undergraduate and graduate institutions. “We’re looking for no interference,” said Edward Fort, chancellor of North Carolina A&T University. “We want it to sail through unimpeded.”

Another issue high on Fort’s list is the return of the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowships and Javits Fellow ships, two small programs Dr. Edward Fort Congress eliminated during budget-cutting efforts last year. Together, the two received funding of about $30 million. “Those two programs are absolutely essential for HBCUs to attract sharp potential Ph.D candidates,” he said.

Also on the minds of HBCUs, community colleges and others is the need to preserve federal financial aid for remedial education. Low-income students account for a large percentage of remedial students, and such courses often are essential if these students are to continue in higher education.

“For many of these students, access to college and persistence towards a degree is often contingent upon the completion of one or two required remedial courses,” said a recent study from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, a Washington-based panel examining policy options for reauthorization.

Remedial students claim a growing percentage of financial aid, however, prompting some to seek guarantees that federal aid cover only those students doing “college-level” work.

But congressional involvement in determining what is “remedial” would find the federal government taking a role in setting college curriculum, according to the advisory committee.

Curriculum content is “an area in which any government intrusion is unwelcomed by institutions and that is well outside the domain of the [student] aid programs,” the committee said.

Other reforms under consideration likely would focus on:

* graduation-contingent aid, with students receiving forgiveness based on financial need after they complete their studies;

* block grants, perhaps the aid of choice for some conservatives that would give states more flexibility to award financial aid;

* different treatment of vocational/technical students, along the lines of the Clinton administration’s earlier plan to designate Pell Grants for academic study and Department of Labor “Skill Grants” for vocational study; and

* “front-loaded” benefits, with most financial aid targeted to freshmen and sophomores to keep them in school.

Each option has drawbacks, according to the advisory committee. For example, graduation-based aid holds needy students to higher standards and fails to recognize students who drop out for reasons other than financial. Different treatment of vocational students would find students and colleges dealing with two different applications and more bureaucracy.

Fort has his own answer to these myriad issues — focus more attention on Pell Grants than on loans, much like the government did before the 1980s. “Students leave these campuses deeply in debt,” he said, urging Congress to double current spending on grants.

Congress is seeking public input now as it prepares for the upcoming reauthorization. Interested parties can submit comments to: House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, 2181 Rayburn House Office Building, South Capitol St. and Independence Ave. SE, Washington DC 20515. The chairman is Rep. William Goodling (R-PA). In the Senate, address comments to: Subcommittee on Education. Arts and Humanities, 648 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Constitution Avenue and First St. NE, Washington, DC 20510.

Vocational Education Limited in Welfare Bill

Congress and President Clinton agreed to a massive reform of the welfare system that will require more low-income parents to enter education, work or training programs.

The emphasis in the new agreement is on jobs, though some parents, particularly teenagers, can use education as a way to meet work requirements of the bill. Overall. the measure would limit welfare benefits to five years over a person’s lifetime and no more than two consecutive years without a work requirement.

Republicans in Congress attached strong provisions that may limit education’s role in the reform package. Eligible activities include only vocational education, as some Senate members lost a battle to broaden the definition to include nearly any activity in higher education.

Under the bill, a welfare recipient may pursue vocational education as an alternative to work, but such training can last no more than 12 months. This figure represents a victory for the House, since the Senate’s final proposal would have allowed vocational education for up to two years

Also, no more than 20 percent of welfare recipients may meet their work requirements by participating in a vocational education program.

Education is a more viable option for teenage parents under the bill. Teens who are heads of households can meet work requirements by staying in high school or receiving other education directly linked to future jobs. Nonetheless, states must count teens in school toward the 20 percent limit, which could make it difficult for older adults to use education to meet work requirements.

The bill also ends Aid to Families with Dependent Children as a federal guarantee to poor families. States instead would receive block grants to provide cash benefits and child care for those engaged in work, education or training. States must enroll about 25 percent of eligible families next year, with the amount increasing to 50 percent by the year 2002.

Although President Clinton vetoed two earlier versions of welfare reform, he said Congress had made enough improvements that he could sign the bill. Most members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted against the agreement. approved by the House 328 to 101 and the Senate by a margin of 78 to 21.

“This agreement, along with the other vetoed welfare bills, amounts to nothing short of a roll call of pain and shame that will be dumped on those Americans who are clearly in need of a social service safety net.” said Rep Ed Towns (D-NY).

A new report from the Urban Institute said the measure could push one million more children into poverty by capping welfare benefits. The bill will “ensure insecurity and forecast fear” for low-income parents, added Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-IL).

Historic Preservation Saga Continues

Bob Dole has left the Senate, but his attempted legacy to funding historic preservation at historically Black colleges and universities’ lives on.

While a Kansas senator, Dole sought to attach aid for a home-state school, Sterling College, to legislation that would promote preservation of historic buildings at HBCUs. The move stirred an outcry from some critics, many of whom later agreed to keep in the Dole proviso to help the legislation. The bill ultimately failed in the last Congress.

Dole resigned in June, but a new plan to revive the historic preservation bill still includes aid to the Kansas college.

The bill, introduced last month, authorizes $15 million this year annually through 1998. Of first-year allocations, $5 million would go to Fisk University and $10 million to other HBCUs.

The plan also provides $3.6 million to Sterling College and $1.5 million to Simpson College in Iowa — neither of which is an HBCU.

The bill (S. 1940) was introduced by Sens. William Frist (R-TN), Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL). It was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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