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Feds Hand Out $120M to Expand College Access

Feds Hand Out $120M to Expand College Access

WASHINGTON — With the new academic year just days away, the Clinton administration tagged 21 states and 164 local partnerships to serve as the first participants in the highly-touted “Gear Up for College” program to boost access to higher education.
Approved last year, the program targets at-risk students early — no later than the middle school — and provides them with tutoring, mentoring and support programs. It also works with parents, helping them learn more about college and financial aid.
Endorsed by the White House, the $120-million plan was developed largely by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Gear Up will positively change the life chances of millions of young people,” Fattah says. “Right now, the single most important priority to ensure its impact is effective implementation.”
Despite giving applicants only weeks to make detailed proposals, more than 40 states and 600 local partnerships applied for funds, officials with the U.S. Department of Education say.
Under the program, states and colleges may work with middle schools provided that the school enrollment is at least 50 percent low- income.
“We  received an unexpectedly high number of Gear Up applications — many more than we were able to fund this year,” U.S. Sec. of Education Richard W. Riley says. “Clearly, there is tremendous demand for this program.”
Given the need, he adds, Congress should approve a request by the Clinton administration to double Gear Up funding from $120 million to $240 million next year.
Among states, California received the largest one-year grant, $4.9 million. Other big awards included: Texas, $4.5 million; Oklahoma, $3.4 million; Maryland, $2.7 million; and Massachusetts, $2 million. Other states winning first-year funds include Alaska,$1.2 million; Colorado,$1.3 million; Connecticut, $1.5 million; Maine, $1.2 million;  Minnesota, $1.5 million; Montana, $1.9 million; New Jersey, $1.4 million;  New Mexico,$1 million; New York, $729,000; Ohio,$1million; Rhode Island,$1.2 million; South Carolina, $1.8 million;Vermont,$1.1 million; Washington, $2.7 million; and Wisconsin, $1.5 million.
The agency also funded local partnerships that consist of colleges, public schools, and at least two community organizations. Local partnerships must work with an entire grade level at a school, tracking those students through the 12th grade.
State programs have the option of using that approach — which closely follows the “I Have a Dream” model begun in the 1980s, where individual philanthropists guarantee a college education for all students in a particular middle school classroom.
Recipients of local grants include historically Black Claflin College of Orangeburg, S.C.

Small Colleges Could See Relief on Student Loan Default Rates
Small colleges with only a few student borrowers could catch a break on default rates from the Education Department if current proposals take effect later this year.
Department officials have proposed a new regulation to exempt many small colleges from sanctions because of high student loan defaults. Small and low-cost colleges often complain they face termination from most federal aid programs, including Pell grants, when only a few borrowers default.
Under current law, colleges with 25 percent default rates for three consecutive years are subject to sanctions. The new plan would exempt colleges if they have fewer than 30 borrowers who enter repayment during that three-year timeline.
“Schools that make very few loans pose a minimal financial risk to the taxpayers,” department officials said in last month’s proposal, one of several new potential rules affecting colleges and financial aid programs.
Elsewhere, colleges could face stiffer requirements for work-study programs. The agency wants to require  colleges to spend 7 percent of funds on students in community service jobs, up from the current 5 percent. Colleges also would have to assign at least one student as a  tutor for child or family literacy programs.
The latter requirement is part of an effort to raise literacy and awareness of a new federal law, the Reading Excellence Act, an effort to get all children reading by  the third grade. The work-study changes would take effect in the 2000-01 academic year.

 Black College Week Introduced
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), a one-time segregationist, wants to make sure the nation celebrates a week in honor of Black colleges in September.
Thurmond introduced a resolution to celebrate the week beginning Sept. 19 as “National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week.” Twenty-eight senators co-sponsored the resolution, forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In introducing the measure last month , Thurmond noted this is the 14th time he has served as sponsor of the resolution. His state has eight of 117 HBCUs nationwide.
“Historically Black colleges offer our citizens a variety of curricula and programs through which young people develop skills and talents, thereby expanding opportunities for a lifetime of achievement,” he says.
One of hundreds of such commemorative resolutions with no monetary value, the week recognizing HBCUs should pass readily.                           

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