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Hispanic-serving institutions are rapidly growing in number, but the federal aid available to them is shrinking almost as fast.
A section of the Higher Education Act has reserved $100 million annually in competitive grants for HSIs to increase the number of Latino students with bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering or math. Hispanic-serving institutions, defined as those that have a full-time Latino enrollment of at least 25 percent, had access to this money from fiscal years 2008 through 2019.
On Monday, that portion of the HEA – Title III, Part F – will expire. This law also allocates mandatory funding, for many of the same reasons, to historically black colleges and universities and to tribal colleges and Asian American and Native American/Pacific Islander-serving institutions. Congressional leaders proposed the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act in May, to extend the funding for two years for all of these institutions, at a total of $255 million; it passed in the House but has not passed in the Senate.
While the end of this funding will be a great loss to all institutions that relied on it, HSIs may be hardest hit.
In 2008 when HSIs received the first grants, “there were many less HSIs,” said Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education, which advocates for Latino students and HSIs.
That year, there were 141 HSIs. Now, there are 523. They are dividing that $100 million.
“This becomes much more competitive for HSIs and it’s harder to get the resources, whereas for our colleagues at HBCUs and tribal colleges, those numbers really haven’t changed,” Santiago said.
If anything, some numbers are actually dropping. Fifteen HBCUs have closed since 1997, leaving 102 still open. Yet the Title III, Part F funding for HBCUs and a handful of other predominantly black institutions has traditionally been the same total as that for HSIs. The government also recognizes 32 tribal colleges, which received $30 million in funding.
The number of Hispanic-serving institutions is likely to rise; 328 colleges and universities have between 15 and 24 percent full-time Latino enrollment. But much of the conversation and lobbying about the Future Act and its STEM funding provision has emphasized what HBCUs will lose, with only a passing mention of other minority-serving institutions, or MSIs.
“When you group these institutions as MSIs, it really kind of masks the differences between them,” Santiago said. “And there are significant differences between each of these groupings of institutions and their definitions.”
The HEA itself has not been reauthorized since 2008, but this week Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, introduced a bill called the Student Aid Improvement Act that appears to be the mini-version of a new Higher Education Act. The bill mostly addresses other issues, like simplifying how students apply for federal aid and increasing aid for low-income students, but it would also provide $255 million in STEM funding for minority-serving institutions, just like the Future Act. Under Alexander’s new bill, institutions would receive this funding, which includes $100 million for HSIs, every year for the foreseeable future. While introducing the Student Aid Improvement Act, Alexander criticized the Future Act for failing to fund schools beyond two years.
“Instead of the short-term patch that the House passed, we should pass a long-term solution that gives certainty to college presidents and their students,” Alexander said during a Capitol Hill session. “Congress has time to do this. It is true that the law expires at the end of this month, but the money doesn’t. The United States Department of Education has sent a letter assuring Congress that there is enough funding of the program to continue through the next fiscal year.”
Some Future Act supporters believe that, because of the quickly approaching Monday deadline, it’s best to make Future into law rather than wait to see what happens with Alexander’s new bill.
“The extension of mandatory funding for our nation’s HBCUs and MSIs should not be delayed,” said Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education at The Education Trust, in a statement. “The Senate must take immediate action to renew that funding to prevent any disruption to students, and then move forward with a more expansive HEA bill drafting process.”