Washington Watch: A helping hand to minority-serving colleges

Revenue from tuition and fees is not enough to operate many under-resourced community colleges — especially those that serve a disproportionate number of minority, low-income and first-generation college students.

While federal student aid helps students pay for their education, institutional aid is critical in helping community colleges support a variety of campus programs. Such aid includes Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act, which provides grants to colleges that show lower-than-average per student spending, while serving large percentages of low-income and historically underrepresented students.

Serving minority students

Community colleges receive most of the Strengthening Institutions (Title III-A) program funds, which are competitively awarded. The program supports improvement of academic programs, institutional management and fiscal stability. Colleges also can use the grants for institutional planning, faculty development, scientific or laboratory equipment, endowment building and student support services.

Last year, Congress appropriated $99 million for Title III-A, up $12 million from the $87 million it received annually in fiscal years (FY) 2016 and 2017.

Title III also includes programs that serve specific minorities, with grants awarded both competitively and by a formula. For example, the Strengthening Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions program supports colleges where Alaskan natives comprise at least 20 percent of undergraduates and Native Hawaiians at least 10 percent.

The Predominantly Black Institutions program serves mainly two-year colleges where African-Americans comprise at least 40 percent of enrollments, and at least half of students come from low-income backgrounds and are the first in their families to attend college.

Title III programs also serve historically black colleges and universities, tribally controlled and non-tribal Native American colleges, and colleges that serve a minimum percentage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

A growing Hispanic population

Similarly, the Title V-A Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) program funds competitive grants to help expand and enhance academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability of colleges and universities where at least one-quarter of students are Hispanic. The program provides grants for individual development, cooperative arrangement development and planning.

This program also saw its appropriations increase from FY 2016 and 2017 ($117 million) to FY 2018 ($134 million). The number of HSIs continues to grow, with many institutions just under the 25 percent mark. Community colleges represent most of the nearly 500 HSIs, and about one-third of so-called “emerging” HSIs, according to federal data analysis by the Hispanics Association of Colleges & Universities.

Community college leaders continue to advocate for additional funding for the Title III and V programs as Congress works to complete its FY 2019 allocations. To date, House appropriators would keep funding at FY 2018 levels for most of these programs, while Senate appropriators favor a 2.2 percent increase.

About the Author

Laurie Quarles
is a legislative resource associate at the American Association of Community Colleges.