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Robbing Peter to pay Paul – reauthorizing the higher education act

by Charles Dervarics

Reauthorizing the higher education act amid the new political reality means some programs may lose so that others might gain.

Despite robust economic growth and a balanced budget on the horizon,
the debate before the U.S. Senate was a stark one: spend more on Pell
Grants for needy students or cut home heating aid for the poor and
elderly this winter.

Conservative Republican Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued for Pell
Grants, calling the heating program a remnant of the 1970s oil crisis
and “the liberal welfare state.” Democrats, with regret, said that they
had to support energy aid, so that – as Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said
– people would not face “a choice between heating and eating.”

Debates such as this one on September 3 reflect a new political
reality for education advocates in here one that can put an unusual
spin on partisan debates. Though Democrats won this debate and
preserved the energy program, for some these are hollow victories that
may not bode well as Congress tackles reform of the largest program for
colleges and universities, the Higher Education Act (HEA).

The HEA is the major federal law that authorizes core higher
education programs such as Pell Grants, college work/study, loan
programs, aid to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs),
TRIO programs, and dozens of other activities from graduate education
to regulations for campus security. Financial aid programs under HEA
alone provide about $47 billion in aid and serve 8 million students.
The bill officially expired on September 30, but lawmakers will hold
hearings this year and submit a reauthorization bill for approval in
1998.

Every Increase Comes With a Price

The Rose Garden ceremony was tailor-made for television as President
Bill Clinton, on August 5, signed an historic balanced-budget plan into
law. The plan included many initiatives friendly to education,
including a $40 billion package of education tax credits and a $300
increase in the maximum Pell Grant.

But the plan drew muted enthusiasm from some, who noted the package
treats more affluent households better than less affluent ones.

“With all the discussion about HOPE scholarships and tax credits,
all families with incomes below $28,000 a year are not going to become
eligible,” says Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), an opponent of the
package which has no education credits for those with little or no
income tax liability.

The plan also divided the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), whose
leader, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) opposed it even though others
endorsed it.

“There are things in this bill you wish were not in there,” says CBC
member Rep. Eva Clayton (D-N.C.) about the plan with total tax breaks
of $275 billion over ten years.

By comparison, the government spent $29 billion in direct spending
on education this year. But Clayton voted for the package, citing the
education tax credits and more children’s health funds.

“On balance, it may not be perfect, but I think it is good for America,” she says.

Yet this pact and others have shifted the focus of spending debates,
according to budget experts. Many plans to increase education spending
now require equal offsetting cuts. Because proposals to boost education
with cuts in defense are generally ruled out of order, lawmakers have
two alternatives: use the tax code, or set domestic programs against
each other for limited funds – as in the Pell Grant vs. energy debate.

“These are good programs,” laments Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a
member of Congress since 1974. “We should not be robbing one program
that hits at the poorest…to help other low-income people get an
education.”

Sharing the Pie

It may be another year before it’s clear how these trends will
affect HEA reauthorization. But based on public hearings in 1997, it is
already apparent that many worthy higher education causes will compete
for limited federal funds.

Among those facing this situation is Title III, the section of HEA
that includes aid to historically Black colleges and universities
(HBCUs). In 1997, Congress earmarked $129 million for HBCUs from a
total Title III budget of $195 million. Of the remaining money, $10.5
million went to Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and $55.4 million
went for “developing” institutions such as community colleges.

Already, however:

* an HSI representative has asked the House of Representatives for
“a minimum of $100 million” more to expand Title III, with nearly half
of that money for Hispanic-serving institutions;

* tribal colleges proposed a new Title III program for those
institutions, a plan U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley publicly
supports;

* and an HBCU representative sought $48 million to $50 million for
Black graduate schools, more than double current funding for that
purpose.

The main Title III HBCU program of undergraduate support could use an increase as well, claim HBCU administrators.

“We can always upgrade our programs,” says Moses Griffin, Title III administrator at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

Wilberforce has used its most recent grant for retention,
counseling, academic development, staff development and academic
instruction and equipment, Griffin said. But the college cannot use any
grant money to build endowments, something he feels Congress should
allow all HBCUs in this reauthorization.

Doubling the $19 million HBCU graduate program would allow newly
created graduate schools to join the program, says Dr. Frederick S.
Humphries, president of Florida A&M University,:where new Ph.D.
programs in engineering cannot receive aid because they began after the
last HEA reauthorization in 1992.

A funding increase also would help address an imbalance in federal
support for Black colleges, according to Humphries. Non-U.S. residents
in 1994 received seven times the number of Ph.D.s as African Americans.

“Foreign students Enjoy greater support for graduate opportunities
than African Americans,” he says. “It is a devastating commentary on
our times that in the case of graduate programs, HBCUs are as critical
to African American progress today as they were in the nineteenth
century.”

Tribal college leaders note that American Indians are the only group
historically denied educational access who currently are left out of
Title III. Many of these institutions need physical improvements and
hold classrooms in trailers or buildings with leaky roofs, these
officials told Congress.

And HSI leaders note the tremendous growth of their institutions – and Hispanic educational needs, in general.

“It is not our goal today to pit one favorite child against
another,” said Dr. Norman I. Maldonado, president of the University of
Puerto Rico, seeking to avoid discord about access to funds. In
offering his $100-million Title III plan, he says, “We recognize that a
rising tide lifts all boats.”

Dealing with Remediation

To free up money for new or expanded programs, lawmakers will look
for savings – which is why some are particularly interested in
discussing remedial education. Some lawmakers and researchers would end
the use of federal financial aid for remedial services, arguing funds
could better serve those already capable of college-level work.

But students of color are over-represented in remedial education
compared to their higher education enrollments, studies show, and many
institutions view remediation as an essential part of their mission.

Most college presidents and faculty would prefer to work on their
“main mission” to prepare students for the challenges of the next
century, says Dr. Thomas W. Cole Jr., president of Clark Atlanta
University. Before getting to this stage, however, “we recognize that
we are often compelled to correct the educational deficits in some of
our students before we can perform the functions of the academy.”

Supporters of remedial education won a small victory on this issue
this summer from an unusual source: the General Accounting Office
(GAO). A new agency study found that little federal financial aid pays
for remedial courses no more than about 4 percent. The GAO acknowledged
that its survey responses “raise questions about some pre-conceived
notions about the relationship between college remediation and
financial aid.”

However, congressional leaders still are silent about whether this
report will affect their HEA plans. Though it launched HEA hearings
this summer, House and Senate members will not produce a
reauthorization plan until next year.

Preserving the Grants

Twenty years ago, nearly 80 percent of federal aid to college
students came in the form of grants. Today, grants account for only
about half that level, with loans now representing the majority of aid.

Preserving – and enhancing – grants is the main focus of many
African Americans in HEA reauthorization, including leaders at Paine
College in Augusta, Georgia. Dr. Shirley A.R. Lewis, the college’s
president, provided this breakdown on the 661 students enrolled at
Paine in 1994-95:

* 510, or more than 70 percent, received Pell Grants;

* 280, or more than 40 percent, received work/study aid; and

* 150, or more than 20 percent, received Supplemental Educational
Opportunity Grants, another federal grant program that targets needy
students.

These students received more than $1.5 million in grant aid, just
barely more than the $1.4 million they took out in student loans. Such
statistics are common among many College Fund/UNCF institutions, Lewis
says.

“While UNCF student reliance on the Pell Grant program is
undeniable, the increasing dependence of UNCF students on the Stafford
Loan program and other student loans to pay for college is
frightening,” the Georgian adds.

That’s one reason the College Fund/ UNCF wants to protect and expand
grant aid – including at least a $600 increase in the maximum Pell
Grant in the next two years, plus an inflation adjustment or link to
the Consumer Price Index thereafter.

Colleges with a large number of Pell Grant recipients also should
automatically get a Student Support Services Grant under the TRIO
program to help these students succeed in and finish college,
proponents argue.

Looking to the Future

During reauthorization, Congress will examine other issues –
including the future of all TRIO programs that seek to recruit and
retain low-income, first-generation students in college; student loan
default management; and eligibility of part-time and independent
students for federal aid. But few congressional leaders are talking
dollar figures yet for any programs.

One who has discussed specific funding levels, Rep. William Clay
(D-Mo.), wants substantially more for education. Clay, a CBC member,
has introduced legislation to increase the maximum Pell Grant to $4,500
by 2002, a 50-percent increase over four years. His bill also would
continue the exemption from loan-default sanctions currently available
to HBCUs.

In the Senate, Minnesota’s Wellstone has proposed a gradual move to a $5,000 Pell Grant.

“My view is that the most fair and effective way to improve college
access and affordability for low-income families is through
strengthening the Pell Grant program,” Clay says.

Many researchers bear out Clay’s assertions. Tax credits tend to
help those most likely to go to college anyway and provide less help to
those whose attendance may hinge on the amount of federal aid.

“Tax incentives alone will not get the job done,” says Ted Freeman,
president of the Education Resources Institute, which reviewed the
issue with the Institute on Higher Education Policy in a report earlier
this year.

Even despite budget and fiscal pressures, “We need a balanced
approach of student aid and tax policies to meet this challenge,” he
said.

RELATED ARTICLE: HEA: Issues and Answers

What is the Higher Education Act?

First enacted in 1965, HEA is a major federal law that authorizes
core higher education programs such as Pell Grants, college work/study,
loan programs, aid to HBCUs, TRIO programs, and dozens of other
activities from graduate education to regulations for campus security.
Financial aid programs under HEA alone provide about $47 billion in aid
and serve 8 million students.

What is reauthorization?

Under federal law, Congress must reauthorize – or review – federal
programs regularly and make policy changes as needed. Lawmakers expect
this process to take two years.

When does it expire?

HEA officially expired September 30, but Congress will continue to
fund programs – including Title III aid to Black colleges – until a new
bill takes effect. Lawmakers will hold hearings this year and submit a
bill for approval in 1998.

What is the Education Department’s (ED) role?

ED will submit its own plan to reauthorize higher education
programs, probably this fall. ED held public hearings in 1996 and 1997
to collect input. Some details of this plan already have emerged, such
as a possible time limit on financial aid and a new Title III program
for tribal colleges.

Who are the key players?

In the House, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, a three-term California
Republican, chairs the post-secondary education subcommittee that holds
most of the hearings in that chamber. McKeon’s panel is part of the
House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. William
Goodling (R-Pa.). Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.), a Congressional Black
Caucus member, is senior Democrat on the full committee.

There is no Senate education subcommittee, so the issue is handled
by the Labor and Human Resources Committee, chaired by moderate Sen.
James Jeffords (R-Vt.). Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is the senior
Democrat.

Where can I provide input?

The American Council on Education, The College Fund/UNCF, and the
National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education are just
a few of the organizations monitoring HEA reauthorization. Submit
comments to member organizations or write to: House Education and the
Workforce Committee, 2181 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC
20515; (202) 225-4527; or Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee,
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; (202)
224-6770.

RELATED ARTICLE: CBC Commemorates Tenth Anniversary Of Title IIIB

by Ronald Roach

WASHINGTON – Enactment of Title IIIB in the Higher Education
Assistance Act came “at a very critical time,” according to William
Gray, president of The College Fund/UNCF, at a commemoration of the
tenth anniversary of Title IIIB here.

“You would have had a number of HBCUs go under had Title IIIB not
come into existence,” Gray told nearly fifty people who were attending
the commemoration that was organized by U.S. Representative Major Owens
(D-N.Y.) during the Congressional Black Caucus’s Annual Legislative
Weekend last month. (See Last Word, pg. 80.)

Gray, who was chairman of the House Budget Committee when Title IIIB
was crafted and included in the Higher Education Act, recalled working
with Owens and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus to get
the measure passed. He said Title IIIB provided funding to schools that
needed it to stay afloat during the late 1980s, when a number of HBCUs
experienced financial difficulties.

Other officials who participated in the commemoration were Dr. Henry
Ponder, president of NAFEO; Dr. Gloria Scott, president of Bennett
College; Dr. Claude A. Mayberry, chair of the National Commission for
African American Education; William “Buddy” Blakey, counsel to The
College Fund/UNCF; and Dr. Lloyd Hackley, chair of the White House
Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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