Black, Hispanic Leaders Stress Need for More Financial Aid
Many high-achieving students still unable to afford a college educationLow-income, high-achieving students face tremendous barriers to success in college, largely due to limited financial aid funds, representatives of Black and Hispanic colleges told Congress last month.
“Let me be very clear — adequate student financial assistance is fundamentally the most important element to assuring access for low-income students,” said Dr. Shirley A.R. Lewis, president of Paine College in Augusta, Ga. But financial aid, when combined with strong student support services, is “a winning plan for student access and success,” she told the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“Investing more in HBCU students is about the future prosperity of this nation,” Lewis said at the July 16 hearing.
Lewis and others testified before the committee as it examined the merits of a new report, “Empty Promises: The Myth of College Access in America,” from the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. Among other conclusions, the committee says that nearly half of all college-ready, low- and moderate-income high school students will choose not to attend a four-year institution next year.
Of these 400,000 students, a majority will opt for lower-cost two-year schools while 170,000 will not go to college at all.
Such high-achieving students have an unmet need of about $3,800 a year, even if they attend a public four-year college. As a result, despite strong academic credentials, these students “confront daunting financial barriers with major implications for these students and the nation,” said Dr. Juliet Garcia, president of University of Texas-Brownsville and chairwoman of the federal advisory panel.
The data, which extends over 10 years, shows the potential for a significant loss not only for the students but also for the nation’s economy as well, Garcia said.
“Without significant increases in need-based grant aid, this chain of events is irreversible,” she said.
UT-Brownsville serves a region that is 90 percent Hispanic with an unemployment rate twice the national average. “Even though our costs of attendance are relatively modest, a serious shortage of grant aid and the necessity to work and borrow heavily make it nearly impossible for many academically qualified high school graduates to attend full-time, on campus, immediately upon graduation.”
Witnesses focused primarily on the need to increase federal grant assistance. “Only an increase in grant aid will work,” Garcia said.
But lawmakers noted that Congress had approved major increases in Pell Grants in recent years. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the committee chairman, said it was of “great concern” that so many students cannot afford college even after Congress has enacted record Pell Grant increases.
He noted that tuition at public institutions has increased by 40 percent after inflation during the past decade. As a result, higher education institutions must be part of a commitment — also involving federal and state governments — to increase college access.
Access “involves more than just financial aid,” he said.
The panel held the hearing as it prepares for a required review of financial aid programs and the Higher Education Act in 2003.
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