UNCF Statement on House Republican Higher Education Reauthorization Bill, the PROSPER Act
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) today commends Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, for her work in introducing a comprehensive 542-page bill, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act—PROSPER Act—aimed at improving the Higher Education Act and incentivizing college success.
To make higher education a reality for minority and low-income students, UNCF strongly believes that the federal government must reduce the complexity of federal student aid, eliminate financial barriers to access and completion for students with few financial resources of their own, and invest in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other institutions that are lifting up the least advantaged Americans into the middle class.
“The bill introduced by Representative Foxx is a first step toward the reforms that the nation must make to ensure that every student has a successful journey from high school to college and career, but our preliminary review indicates that the bill falls short of enabling college success for the minority and low-income students who can help our country compete and win in the global economy,” stated Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO, UNCF.
The Foxx bill includes a number of proposals that UNCF has championed, including provisions to provide earlier information about student financial aid to secondary students; to reduce the complexity of federal student aid programs, which prevents millions of financially-needy students from accessing federal college assistance; to authorize extra Pell Grant funds to incentivize students to graduate in four years; to expand needed work-study opportunities for low-income students; and to streamline the current complicated maze of income-based loan repayment plans to help borrowers manage their student loan debt based on their income. UNCF will be digging deeper into these proposals to examine whether they are designed to maximize benefits to students.
However, UNCF is disappointed that the bill fails to put Pell Grants—the federal government’s primary college assistance program for disadvantaged students—on a path to covering a meaningful portion of college costs for the nearly 8 million students who rely on these grants annually.
Moreover, UNCF is deeply concerned that the bill fails to make new investments in HBCUs, which pull above their weight in producing African American college graduates. The bill cuts the authorization levels for the Title III Strengthening HBCUs program and freezes authorized funding at this reduced level for six years; discontinues (after 2019) an essential federal investment in HBCUs of $85 million annually that has helped these institutions to be leading producers of African Americans with degrees in high-demand science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields; and does not include the HBCU Innovation Fund recommended by UNCF so that HBCUs can develop, validate, and scale innovative solutions to college completion, teacher diversity, STEM, and other national needs. Further, we have reservations about provisions in the bill that could require HBCUs to take on additional financial risk because they educate vulnerable student populations.
HBCUs have a strong value proposition – producing skilled graduates for employers and bolstering their local and regional economies – as documented in a new landmark study released by UNCF, HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
UNCF looks forward to working with Chairwoman Foxx, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and the entire House Committee on Education and the Workforce to strengthen the PROSPER Act as it moves through House consideration to ensure college affordability and success for the most vulnerable students and the institutions that serve them.
For more information on UNCF’s higher education policy recommendations, see UNCF Public Policy Priorities for the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress.
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. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at over 1,100 colleges and universities. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” ® Learn more at UNCF.org.