Stakeholders Call for Increased Support for HSIs Given Impact of COVID-19 - Higher Education


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Stakeholders Call for Increased Support for HSIs Given Impact of COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact businesses, schools and daily life in a number of ways.

It has also further exposed inequities that existed in society, given that a disproportionately high percentage of deaths related to COVID-19 in the U.S. have occurred among minority populations. According to age-adjusted statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding COVID-19 deaths by race and unweighted population distributions by race in the U.S., Hispanics make up 19.4% of the population but 39.7% of the individuals who have died from COVID-19 were Hispanic. 

Excelencia in Education, an education consulting organization, released a report highlighting the impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) titled, “Federal Support for Hispanic-Serving Institutions During Covid-19: Analysis and Recommendations.”

To be considered an HSI, enrollment of undergraduate, full-time equivalent (FTE) Hispanic students must be at least 25%, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In 2018-19, 539 institutions met the qualifications of an HSI. 

Dr. Antonio R. Flores

To be eligible for a Title V grant, an HSI must have “high enrollment of needy students,” “low core expenses” and apply to the United States Department of Education. Over 100 institutions who qualified as an HSI were left out of the funding allocation while some non-HSIs received aid, according to Excelencia’s report.

Under the minority-serving institutions (MSIs) section of the CARES Act, $1 billion was set aside for MSIs that are eligible for Title III and V grants. Despite HSIs making up half of all MSIs, only $210 million, or 21%, of the funding was received, the research found.  

The HEROES Act also set aside $1.7 billion for MSIs, of which $405 million was allocated to HSIs. However, to qualify for additional funding, HSIs must submit an application form demonstrating financial need and can only apply through one minority-serving designation, according to the analysis.

Getting their fair share?

“We have been hit pretty hard,” says Dr. Antonio R. Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. “And obviously the impacts are wide ranging on our institutions and on their students, faculty and staff. To begin with, the CARES Act provided relief for COVID-19. It was very helpful. HSIs, especially community colleges, enroll mostly part-time students. Yet, the CARES Act was allocated on the basis of FTE. It was somewhat of a disadvantage with respect to the amount of funding they got.”

By using FTE, institutions with the highest number of enrolled part-time students received less aid than those with more full-time students, according to Excelencia.  

Going forward, Luis Maldonado, vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said that stakeholders are asking Congress to put aside 10% of the funding that goes to colleges and universities. This would make the funding accessible to HSIs, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other MSIs.

Luis Maldonado

“So that’s in addition to the general funding support that has been allocated for institutions,” he adds. “It’s a recognition that these institutions need additional funding not only to adapt and respond to the virus but also to better support their students.” 

Maldonado also urges Congress to be more specific in future support as to who is eligible to receive institutional aid. 

“The current Department of Education has purposefully limited and created unnecessary obstacles in the eligibility for the student aid,” he says. “Aid should not be limited to just Title IV eligible individuals. The strategy that they implemented ended up harming and limiting other students who should also be eligible, particularly veterans.” 

Additionally, Flores said policymakers need to allocate adequate funding to HSIs that continue to be underfunded. Compared to other institutions of higher education, HSIs receive about 68 cents per dollar. 

“We would like to see HSIs continue to do what they’ve been doing so well in serving students,” he says. “And that is to make sure that they connect with families and provide them with support services. Because maybe those families are surviving from one day to the next in terms of the basic necessities and they need a kind of guidance because they might not be aware of where they can go for some support.”

Getting help from foundations, corporations 

HSIs should also reach out to foundations and corporations that have a special understanding of the “Hispanic plight,” says Flores. 

“When the pandemic first started, we were able to secure some funding for students to get kind of survival grants to get food and to get whatever basic necessities they would need,” he says. “And obviously it was not a large amount of money, but it was applied to the end. We had many more complications for the money than the money was available. So, there’s opportunity there to help families.” 

Outside of financial aid, the transition to online learning created a need for students to have adequate technology and Wi-Fi. However, not every student has access to those resources in their homes. 

Beyond the issue of not having access to broadband, students may also lack a quiet place to study or complete their class assignments. 

The overall job market is another factor complicating matters. In August, the U.S. unemployment rate was 8.4%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“Many students at HSIs work,” says Maldonado. “They enroll a large proportion of part-time students. Under the current economic conditions, many have either lost their job or have been furloughed. So that has impacted their ability to pay for their studies or they will have to not enroll this term so they could get back on their feet economically, either for themselves or their households.” 

However, despite all the challenges, Flores advised students to continue their education. 

“What we have seen with some of the data is that people with college degrees are faring a lot better than those without a college degree in the current economy of the pandemic,” he adds. “The unemployment rate among those without a college degree is much higher than for those with college degrees. So, in the long term, it will be to their advantage not to withdraw from college or not just to step out of it, but complete their degree programs.”    

This article originally appeared in the December 10, 2020 edition of Diverse. You can find it here.

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