Republicans are trying to hard to tie federal funding to graduation rates, a change that schools with large minority populations worry could dramatically reduce the money they get from Washington.
Congressional Democrats and outside advocates blasted the proposed GOP re-authorization of the Higher Education Act as a discriminatory measure that will do more harm than good to institutions that educate and graduate a bulk of the nation’s minority students.
But to Republicans, the change would mean a way of being able to make sure the federal dollars are spent responsibly.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said the proposal is necessary to add "some additional accountability measures for institutions in order to focus on outputs – like completion of programs – instead of inputs, just getting students in the door."
She’s getting harsh criticism from advocates for the majority-minority institutions and their advocates. Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., an education committee member, tried to get the provision removed from the bill Tuesday, arguing in prepared remarks that the GOP’s initiative "does nothing to create opportunities for students at minority-serving institutions or HBCUs to prosper."
About 650 schools nationwide have been designated by the Department of Education as minority-serving institutions. They’re campuses with large black, Hispanic, Alaska Native, Native American non-tribal, Asian-American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander enrollments.
The schools educate about 40 percent of the nation’s students of color, according to the Marybeth Gasman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
The average graduation rate for 105 of the two and four-year schools that qualified for federal funds as predominately black institutions – schools not subject to a separate designation as historically black colleges and universities – is 28 percent, according to an analysis of recent federal education data compiled by Andres Castro Samayoa, an assistant higher education professor at Boston College.
For 384 institutions that are eligible for funds as Hispanic-Serving institutions, the average graduation rate is 34 percent, according to Samayoa’s data.
The overall graduation rate for first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree seeking students who entered the nation’s four-year colleges and universities and graduated within five years is 55.3 percent, according to education department figures.
Republicans want to require schools designated by the Department of Education as minority-serving institutions to have a graduation or transfer rate of 25 percent to be eligible for some federal grant programs. No precise data are available as to how many schools are below the 25 percent threshold, or how much money could be lost.
Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, complained in a letter to Foxx that the graduation rate requirement wasn’t equitable because it exempts historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities.
They were excluded because they are defined differently under federal law than other minority-serving institutions, congressional aides and representatives of HBCU organizations said.
"This discriminatory language would only be applied to Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Asian Americans and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions from among all the minority-serving institution cohorts," wrote Flores, whose organization represents 284 Hispanic-serving schools, including 107 in California, 49 in Texas and 13 in Florida.
Adams, co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus, said the bill fails to take into consideration that many minority-serving schools enroll a disproportionate number of non-traditional students — the poor, full-time workers, single parents, and under-prepared high school graduates — who struggle to complete college.
"Instead, (the bill) denies resources to the neediest schools based on a flawed metric," said Adams.
"Linking funds and grants to graduation and completion shows the students and the institutions alike that we’re serious about promoting completion and actually focusing on the entire point of post-secondary education: getting the skills you need to have a successful life,” she said.