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Gridlock Looms As Higher Education Act Expires

As of this Monday, federal funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions(MSI) has expired. Though current funding is expected to last for the next fiscal year, without a congressional agreement regarding how to extend the Higher Education Act, the future of that funding remains in flux.

The Higher Education Act currently gives MSI’s and HBCUs around $255 million in funding each a year. Despite what seems like a rather large allocation of funds, consider the fact that there are currently 105 active HBCUs and around 700 MSI’s in the US to divide this up between. When you look at it that way, $255 million doesn’t seem like a very large number to play with when other institutions have endowments in the billions.

“At HBCUs, we already don’t get the level of federal funding that many other institutions do,” said Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College. “Any time you look at subtracting from that already narrow pool, you impact the wellbeing and the futures of our students.”

What’s interesting though, is that while the Congressional gridlock we’re seeing puts HBCU’s and other MSIs the crosshairs, the gridlock isn’t predominantly driven by funding disagreements. How to navigate Title IX claims and campus sexual assault in the #MeToo era is proving extremely  difficult for Congress. The Department of Education (backed by the GOP) seeks to enhance the rights of the accused in title IX cases which may result in fewer people reporting instances of assault in a  social climate that is already faster to question the accusers legitimacy than that of the accused. On the other hand, Dems support turning title IX cases into expensive courtroom like affairs that smaller schools will struggle to pay for. Conflicts like this are distracting from bipartisan support for legislation that would, for example, make the financial aid process more transparent.

At the end of the day, Congress will need to settle these disputes soon or else HBCUs and MSIs that rely on funds from the Higher Education Act will have a harder time providing underrepresented students with things like scholarships, tuition support, and the advancement of STEM programs.

Regardless, it’s hard to predict of Congress, especially the Senate Republicans, will get anything done with a highly contested 2020 election right on the horizon.

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