New House Bill Cuts Funds for HBCUs, Others - Higher Education
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New House Bill Cuts Funds for HBCUs, Others

by Charles Dervarics

Federal funds for minority-serving colleges and universities are on the chopping block for next year as the House of Representatives is proposing deep cuts or outright elimination of many of these programs for the government’s 2012 fiscal year.

The bill from leaders of the Republican-led Appropriations Committee would terminate U.S. Education Department programs for tribal colleges and predominantly Black institutions while making significant cuts in programs for historically Black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.

The bill is generating strong opposition in the MSI community. “This is counterintuitive to our national goals,” said Edith Bartley, government affairs director at UNCF. “We can’t allow cuts to these basic capacity-building programs,” she told Diverse.

Funding for the Title III Strengthening HBCUs program would drop from $236 million to $152 million, a reduction of 36 percent next year, under the bill. Black colleges use these funds to build capacity on their campuses, including physical plant improvements, student services and faculty/staff development.

Hispanic-serving institutions would face the largest percentage cutback, as funding would fall by 84 percent, from the current $104 million to just $17 million in 2012.

The bill represents “a very dangerous pathway for Congress,” said Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Coming on the heels of an 8 percent cutback for HSIs in 2011, he said, “It will further erode our institutions and lessen opportunities for students.”

But in outlining the plan, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) House Appropriations chairman, said the bill makes tough but necessary choices in setting federal priorities.

“To protect critical programs and services that many Americans rely on — especially in this time of fiscal crisis — the bill takes decisive action to cut duplicative, inefficient, and wasteful spending to help get these agency budgets onto sustainable financial footing,” he said.

Rogers said “excessive” federal spending put many education and other domestic programs “on an irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal path.”

In addition to the cuts for HBCUs and Hispanic-serving colleges, the House GOP plan would eliminate:

n  a $9.6 million program for predominantly Black colleges;

n  a major aid program for tribal colleges, funded at $26 million;

n  a $13 million aid program for Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-serving institutions;

n  a $3.2 million program for colleges with significant enrollments of Asian American/Pacific Islander students; and

n  a $3.2 million initiative for nontribal institutions with significant Native American enrollments.

Federal support for HBCU graduate institutions would remain at $61 million, while the House would continue a $9 million initiative supporting graduate programs for Hispanic students.

House Republicans may be targeting MSIs because they are getting mandatory funding from last year’s health care reform bill, Bartley said. That law also included several long-discussed changes in federal higher education aid, such as an extra $250 million a year for MSIs over 10 years.

But that pot of money is just for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs, she noted. By comparison, the Title III HBCU program is the “foundation” of federal support, with broad use of dollars for academic and facility improvements.

“These would be deep, deep cuts at a time when there are major demographic changes taking place in the nation,” she added.

While the House Appropriations Committee has yet to pass its bill, plans to cut minority-serving colleges already may not fare well in the Senate. The Appropriations Committee in that chamber has unveiled a spending bill with level funding for the main HBCU and Hispanic-serving programs at $236 million and $104 million, respectively.

Tribal colleges, predominantly Black colleges, and the other small MSI programs also would receive continued funding at current levels.

While the Senate is holding firm against cuts now, Bartley said minority-serving institutions must be vigilant in contacting lawmakers to protect funding. The 2012 budget is only one front in the current budget battle, she said. This fall, a House/Senate “super committee” must produce $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction to meet terms of the federal debt ceiling deal negotiated during the summer.

“We’re in precarious times right now,” she told Diverse.

Elsewhere, both the House and Senate bills would maintain the current $5,550 maximum Pell Grant. However, the House would achieve $3.6 billion in savings through eligibility changes, such as reducing from 18 to 12 the number of semesters students are eligible for grants.

Rogers’ committee also said the House bill would eliminate Pell eligibility for students who attend less than half time and for those who lack a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Both the House and Senate would freeze funding for TRIO and GEAR UP programs at current levels of $826 million and $302 million, respectively.

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