The Austin Chronicle

Higher Ed Funding: Congress comes to ACC

By Kimberly Reeves, June 8, 2007, News

Austin Community College will never be showered with million-dollar endowments. It doesn't build tall towers or presidential libraries or conference centers. And it's a safe bet that ACC will never fill an 80,000-seat stadium with screaming football fans.

Yet ACC – not the University of Texas – is the growing gateway to higher education for minority students in Austin-area school districts. Statistics show that more than half of the Latinos who go on to higher education attend community colleges, and community colleges constitute more than half of those institutions classified as "Hispanic serving." As the Top 10% Rule squeezes more local kids out of UT – and the number of Latinos in local school districts grows – ACC will be the choice for many of these students.

The federal Higher Education Act will be reauthorized this year, possibly before Thanksgiving. A House subcommittee, chaired by Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, is looking at new methods to distribute federal education funds earmarked for historically black- and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities. On June 4, Hinojosa hosted a hearing on the ACC Eastview campus, with invited testimony from Huston-Tillotson University and ACC.

ACC, which serves 8,000 Hispanic students, is less than half a percentage point away from qualifying for Title V funding, which is set aside for Hispanic-serving institutions – those with 25% or more Latino students. "We have a goal – to reverse a potentially devastating trend by increasing college attendance and graduation among Hispanics," ACC President Stephen Kinslow told Hinojosa on Monday. "We encourage you to place a priority on Title V funding as our demographics here in Texas and across the nation continue to change. Never have Hispanic-serving institutions been so important to America's economic well-being as they are today."

The funding pool is not large. Title III funding, aimed at historically black colleges, was set at $79.5 million in 2006, to be spread among 97 historically black colleges. And Title V funding, set at $95 million, must serve hundreds of campuses. Moira Lenehan-Razzuri, Hinojosa's education aide, says the goal is to find models that work and to leverage limited funding through corporate and local partnerships. For instance, Hinojosa recently amended the National Science Foundation budget to include matching federal grants for high-minority school districts when local school districts and corporate partners are willing to step up to the plate. And with only 6% of master's degrees awarded to Latinos, said Lenehan-Razzuri, Hinojosa has also proposed competitive grants to expand graduate-course offerings for Hispanic-serving institutions, paralleling a program already in place for black colleges.

At this week's hearing, Hinojosa said his goal is to "get ammunition" to support his proposals. The congressman said his approach to Title III and Title V funding is two-pronged: Increasing the success of minority students in higher education is a matter of access and affordability. Students must know their higher-education options, including access to federal grants and loans, as well as private loans. "We bring in experts, from the community colleges and from the universities, to tell us what the obstacles are for our students," Hinojosa said. "What's keeping them from being college-ready? What do they need to know? So that we can improve access to higher education as well as try to keep higher education affordable for students."

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