College Retention and Completion Program Hits Snag in Congress’ Final Days

College Retention and Completion Program Hits Snag in Congress’ Final Days
 

Despite facing gridlock on other education issues, Congress was nearing a final agreement earlier this month to expand federal TRIO programs with targeted funds in support of college retention and completion. But final approval posed a challenge that had not been met at Black Issues press time.
The College Completion Challenge Grant program has had strong support from Democrats since President Clinton made it a part of his budget plan last winter. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., also introduced legislation to promote the plan, under which TRIO programs would get funds to offer extended services as well as grant aid above and beyond the levels in the Pell grant program.
But final approval requires two steps — new funding in Congress’ annual education budget bill and separate “authorizing” language that permits TRIO programs to offer the extended service. Without the new language, TRIO programs would lack authority to conduct these programs even if Congress does set aside the funds, says Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education.
With few education bills making it through Congress this year, supporters plan to attach both provisions to a mammoth year-end budget bill that will fund thousands of federal programs.
“We are 100 percent confident that we have shepherded this initiative through to passage,” Fattah told Black Issues earlier this month. Top lawmakers in both parties have signed off on an agreement to include both $35 million in funding and the authorizing language in the same bill, he says.
This final bill also should fund most higher education programs, ending a budget stalemate that could have left federal programs with no new money at the start of fiscal year 2001.
 The same bill was expected to provide a large increase for the Pell grant program in 2001. Congressional Republicans favor a $350 increase in the maximum grant, for a top grant of $3,650 next year.
The measure also was expected to provide a healthy increase for other TRIO programs, which include Upward Bound and Talent Search, Mitchem says. Lawmakers already are on record favoring an 18 percent gain, to $760 million, for the entire TRIO budget. 



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