House Democrat Higher Education Reauthorization Bill, Aim Higher Act, a Step Forward for HBCUs

Last week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats released an 811-page proposal unveiling their ideas for reforming the higher education system.  The Aim Higher Act includes a number of provisions that have long been championed by UNCF (the United Negro College Fund).

UNCF expresses support for certain provisions such as dual enrollment and early college high school initiatives; the preservation of campus-based student aid programs; and Pell grant for shorter-term programs. UNCF is also grateful for increased institutional aid for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to reflect inflation, funding for the Honorable Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence competitive grant program, funding for a Minority Serving Institutions Innovation Fund, and the extension of mandatory funds for STEM education. All of these provisions will aid in increasing access to postsecondary education for African American students and ensure that HBCUs have the needed funds to provide services that enhance a student’s educational experience.

“While UNCF is appreciative of the aforementioned provisions, there remain proposals that UNCF would like to continue to work on with Members and staff,” said Lodriguez Murray, UNCF VP of Public Policy and Government Affairs. “For example, the Aim Higher Act proposes to increase access to grant aid and federal student loans, but the proposal fails to mention the ability of institutions to limit student borrowing based on criteria such as program of study.” HBCU students borrow at greater rates, higher amounts, and seek loans from more costly sources while encountering more obstacles repaying their loans. The proposals also suggest an increase of $500 in the Pell grant program, as well as an increase in the eligibility period, but does not mention a Pell bonus that would incentivize students to complete their degree on-time,” said Murray.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Institute, the national graduation rate for students who began college in the fall of 2010 is 54.8 percent, but only 38 percent for black students. These numbers are dismal and should prompt policy makers to create true incentives to increase completion rates by sizeable numbers. Completing college increases students’ chances of obtaining a high-quality job and completing college on time can leave students with less debt.

Furthermore, the proposal seeks to increase institutional accountability by creating various thresholds in the Cohort Default Rate (CDR) metric consisting of 10, 15, and 20 percent. While UNCF appreciates no mention in the Aim Higher Act of a risk-sharing proposal to increase accountability, there are concerns regarding the potential impacts of this proposal on HBCUs. FY 2014 CDRs showed that all 101 eligible HBCUs had 3-year CDRs that fell below regulatory thresholds and no HBCUs were subject to CDR sanctions or the loss of Title IV aid. Under this proposal, it is unclear whether or not the outcomes would remain the same.  

As documented in a new landmark study released by UNCF, HBCUs Make America Strong:  The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,  HBCUs have a strong value proposition—producing skilled graduates for employers and bolstering their local and regional economies.

UNCF applauds ranking member Bobby Scott (D-VA) for his work in presenting a comprehensive proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, and looks forward to working with Scott and the entire House Committee on Education and the Workforce as a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act moves through the House to ensure college affordability and success for our most vulnerable students and the institutions that serve them.

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About UNCF

UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding nearly 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF awards more than $100 million in scholarships annually and administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in.”® Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities. Learn more at UNCF.org or for continuous news and updates, follow UNCF on Twitter @UNCF.