Report: Higher Education Fiscal Crisis Hardest on Hispanic, Low-Income Students
WASHINGTONLow-income and Hispanic students are faring worst amid the financial fix gripping American higher education, according to a report by Dr. Eduardo Padrón, president of Florida’s Miami Dade College. The report, “A Deficit of Understanding: Confronting the Funding Crisis in Higher Education and the Threat to Low-Income and Minority Access,” says low-income and Hispanic students are struggling with soaring college costs more than other students and calls on Congress for help. Without reforms, the report says, more and more students will be squeezed out of higher education, and society will pay the price.According to the report, tuition and fees at a public four-year college currently amount to 71 percent of the earnings of a low-income family — compared to 5 percent and 19 percent of the earnings of upper- and middle-income families, respectively. The report says swelling costs will bar low-income students from pursuing higher education and “the ultimate damage will be an upsurge in the well-known cycle of poverty that straps untold numbers of poor youth to dead-end, dispiriting employment. The economy, too, is denied thousands of much needed, qualified workers for emerging industries.”Increasing college costs are also affecting Hispanics, the report says: “For every $1,000 increase in annual tuition, 6 to 8 percent of the Hispanic population loses access to higher education.” And while Hispanics have made some gains in college enrollment, the rates lag behind those of their African American and White peers. Between 1980 and 2000, enrollment rates among Hispanics between the ages of 18 and 24 rose from 16 percent to 22 percent, according to the report, while African Americans’ enrollment rates jumped from 19 percent to 31 percent, and rates among Whites increased from 25 percent to 39 percent. Padrón said in the report that a number of factors contribute to Hispanics’ low college-enrollment rates, including limited success in K-12 education, deficiencies with English and low income. He suggests that Congress use the upcoming renewal of the Higher Education Act to make some changes for the better.“The opportunity to learn must be protected and the solutions do exist: raised Pell maximums, increased state funding, new tax policy and revenue streams, greater accountability for all sectors of education. Much more can and should be considered,” Padrón said.But Dr. Thomas Wolanin, a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said the report is barking up the wrong tree by pitting disadvantaged groups against one another.“Students with disabilities or any other disadvantaged group have as much a right to education as any other ethnic minority group,” he said.Cheryl Fong, spokeswoman for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, said the report raises valid concerns.“The role of the community college is to maintain access and where low-income, nontraditional students will come first. But students may be frightened off from the potential costs. It’s important for minority students to get financial aid,” she said.Budget cuts in California and last year’s jump in enrollment fees at the state’s two-year schools — from $11 per unit to $18 per unit — are thought to have shut out as many as 175,000 students. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2004-2005 budget plan proposes raising community-college fees again, to $26 per unit. Of the 1.6 million total students enrolled in California community colleges, in the fall of 2003, 442,000 were Hispanic, Fong said
— By Shilpa Banerji
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