How Higher Education Reauthorization Will Impact HBCUs

While leaders in the HBCU community are questioning the silence from the White House on direct support for black campuses, students and institutions will face will face considerable changes under new tax and higher education laws.

How Will The New Laws Impact HBCU Campuses?

According to language in the ‘Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act,’ the following areas will likely impact black college campuses in public information, operational guidelines, and institutional culture.

The New College Dashboard

HBCU presidents railed against the lack of context presented in the original version of the Department of Education’s College Scorecard, which outlined performance in areas such as cost, graduation rate, retention rate, and earnings and debt after graduation. Congress’ new proposal suggests a new dashboard, which suggests removing “biased terms” used to describe the schools, adds data about the number of federal loan recipients, their graduation rates and post-graduate earnings and debt loads.

The proposal also calls for an outline of completion in four, six and eight years of first enrollment.

Free Speech Zones

While HBCUs have largely been outside of the campus free speech movement, the rise in student activism on HBCU campuses brings the new provision into focus for black colleges. From the proposal:

“free speech zones and restrictive speech codes are inherently at odds with the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution; no public institution directly or indirectly receiving financial assistance under this Act should restrict the speech of such institution’s students through such zones or codes.’’

With political protests at Dillard, sexual assault protests at Morehouse and Spelman, administrative protest culture at Howard, and lingering questions about student protests against controversial speakers at Texas Southern and Bethune-Cookman will HBCUs have to embrace new cultures of activism, or welcoming speakers who historically have not appeared at HBCUs?

HBCU Capital Financing Fund

Language in the proposal calls for HBCUs to receive counseling and support in applying for capital financing. It also calls for the yet-to-be-named advisory board to the White House Initiative on HBCUs makes an annual report outlining all new loans made under the program, and status updates on HBCUs with outstanding loans and how they’ve been used.

Financial Aid

The House language on student aid maintains a maximum annual Pell Grant award at $5,920, but offers an additional $300 for students who take more than 12 credit hours per semester. This conditional increase accompanies language that holds schools accountable for returning financial aid of students who do not complete semesters or degrees. The new bill also cuts several federal loan programs and ends student loan forgiveness for graduates working in social service sectors.

With rising concern about financial aid application recalls for missing or incomplete information, proposed changes to the application itself could yield challenges to first-year and transfer students at HBCUs?

What higher ed leaders need to know about what’s going on in Washington

The proposed tax reform legislation working its way through Congress has raised a lot of concerns for higher ed stakeholders and advocates. Brian Flahaven, senior director of advocacy for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said “negotiations [between the conferees] are really happening already” and the convening of a conference committee is really “more of a theater conference.”

Workforce Development

The new proposal clears $183 million annually for workforce development, which could force some HBCUs to shift from a career development focus offered largely through internship and mentoring, to campus-based job training in emerging markets, typically found in programs like nursing, engineering and the natural sciences, and teacher education.

Agencies see ‘workforce reshaping’ as opportunity for professional development, not necessarily RIFs

For many agencies, “workforce reshaping” doesn’t immediately translate to reductions-in-force or early buyouts. Instead, it means taking a hard look at the work their agencies will do in the future and the skills their current employees will need to accomplish that work.

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