Minority-Serving Institutions May Get Windfall
WASHINGTON — Black colleges may get a chance to receive federal funding to expand student access to degree programs, if a new Clinton administration proposal clears Congress.The Education Department has proposed a $40 million initiative to support dual degree programs for minority-serving institutions — including historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities. ED requested $40 million for the competitive grant program, through which minority-serving institutions would team up with other baccalaureate institutions to broaden student academic choices.Under the program, students could receive two degrees within five years — one from a historically Black, Hispanic-serving or tribal college and one from the other partner institution. Proponents say the plan would allow students at Black colleges to gain access to other degree programs not offered at their college or university.To qualify for the grant, the program of study at the partner institution must be a field in which Blacks, Latinos or American Indians are underrepresented nationally.Education Secretary Richard Riley praised the plan in a conference call with education reporters in mid-January. The program, he says, would help HBCUs or HSIs “that don’t have a third or fourth year of courses in some areas.” The program also could allow two historically Black institutions to partner together to offer dual degrees, he adds.The grant initiative, which would require congressional approval, mirrors some programs already underway in the HBCU community. In Atlanta, several HBCUs have partnerships with Georgia Tech in which students earn degrees from both institutions. Florida A&M University also has a partnership with Bethune-Cookman College in which students can earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science from A&M and a liberal arts degree from Bethune-Cookman, which does not offer a computer science baccalaureate degree.At least one official involved in these programs says the new Clinton initiative may have merit. “It’s not a perfect solution,” says Dr. Frederick Humphries, president of Florida A&M University. “But it can be an additional source of African American engineers for those who have the tenacity to get a baccalaureate degree. I think it can be helpful to schools that don’t have the capacity” to offer certain programs.The $40 million program is one of several new ideas the administration has floated in its fiscal 2001 education budget. Scheduled for release on Feb. 7, the White House and ED unveiled bits and pieces of the new budget plan in advance — particularly new initiatives and programs slated for significant funding increases in 2001.Another new administration proposal is for college completion challenge grants, designed to help lower college dropout rates. Dropout rates are particularly high among students of color, as 29 percent of African Americans and 31 percent of Hispanics drop out of school after less than one year, ED says. The corresponding rate for Whites is 18 percent.Colleges and universities that participate in this program may be able to offer more generous financial aid to students. ED said some colleges may increase the amount of grant aid they provide to students, presumably above the rates of the maximum Pell Grant of $3,300 annually. Advocates say this plan mirrors an idea the administration floated last fall for a pilot program to increase grant aid to students in the first two years of college. Along with increased grant aid, participants in this program may provide supplemental support services or pre-freshman summer programs. Funded at $35 million, the program would reach about 18,000 students, the administration says.The Pell Grant program, the nation’s largest grant aid activity, also would receive a moderate $200 increase, to $3,500, in the budget plan. Since 1993, Riley says, the maximum Pell Grant has increased more than 50 percent. As a result, the administration has made college more affordable for about 4 million students.Other need-based aid scheduled for funding increases include college work-study, which would get a $77 million increase to $1.01 billion next year. Another key program, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), would receive a $60 million increase, to $691 million, under the budget plan. These proposals drew a mixed response from congressional Republicans who must decide the fate of these proposals. Rep. William Goodling, R-Pa., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, noted that the House GOP initially favored a Pell Grant of about $3,500 last year — although, like the administration, it had to settle for a smaller increase in the final 2000 budget agreement.Goodling says he believes Pell “is the government’s highest priority for higher education spending and [it] should be funded to the maximum extent allowed in the budget.”The GOP leader also endorsed the president’s work/study increase but found fault with several elements of the two new initiatives on dual degree programs and college completion grants. Both ideas have merit, he says, but not at the expense of a costly new bureaucracy. “The president still sees the need to create new federal programs and new bureaucracies for proposals when existing programs could be used,” Goodling says.The budget details released by ED do not include funding proposals for the Title III HBCU program. However, the administration is expected to propose continued funding — and possibly, a small increase — when it unveils a complete ED budget plan in early February.However, the administration did outline fiscal 2001 proposals for two programs of interest to students of color — TRIO and the new GEAR UP program to promote college awareness. GEAR UP would receive a 62 percent increase to $325 million next year. This gain of $125 million would allow the program to nearly double its enrollment, the White House says. Under the program, ED funds grants to work with middle-school students so they may take the courses and develop the skills to make them college-ready by high school.
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