Ms. Leslie Atkinson, United Negro College Fund
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February 25, 2003
The Honorable Sally Stroup
Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education
U.S. Department of Education
1990 K Street N.W., Room 7115
Washington, D.C. 20202
Dear Madam Secretary:
I am writing to you, on behalf of the 39 member Presidents of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), in response to the Department of Education's request, published in the December 20, 2002 Federal Register, seeking comments on the critical issues in the upcoming Higher Education Act reauthorization. UNCF regards the 2004 reauthorization as particularly significant, especially as it relates to the access to and persistence of minority students in higher education. The Administration's focus during the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, and the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) will certainly increase the flow of qualified, low-income and minority students seeking access to postsecondary education. Given the steadily increasing numbers of Pell eligible students seeking to attend college, and the limited Federal grant aid resources currently available to support higher educational opportunities for such students, it is clear that the existing Federal Student Financial Assistance Programs must be revised and restructured to meet the demands of 21st Century educational opportunity.
UNCF is concerned equally about Federal support for institutional aid programs in Title IIIB of the Act, as well as targeted programs like the Federal TRIO Programs, the Institute for International Public Policy (Title VI, Part C), the Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program (Title VII, Part A, Subpart 3), and UNCF's proposed new graduate fellowship program - honoring the late Patsy T. Mink - to provide graduate fellowships for students who wish to prepare for careers in the higher education professoriate. UNCF strongly supports the proposition that the Department should focus student aid on lower income students and institutional assistance on those colleges and universities that assist the Federal Government in fulfilling its equal opportunity in higher education mission. In order to facilitate the achievement of these twin goals, UNCF recommends that the existing Title IV program be significantly restructured without altering the fundamental principles, which undergird them. In addition, UNCF supports some modifications with respect to the targeted programs mentioned above and the creation of one new program (Patsy T. Mink Fellowship Program).
Following are UNCF's responses to the questions for public comment published in the Federal Register:
(a) Improving Access and Affording Educational Opportunity for All Students
The major remaining barriers to higher educational access are timely information about postsecondary education and financing a college education, and sufficient grant and loan aid for low and middle income students. UNCF believes that both of these problems can be overcome by combining the Federal TRIO and GEAR-UP programs into a single Federal early intervention initiative focused on identification, preparation and information for eligible low-income, first-generation, disabled and veteran students. The existing Upward Bound, Educational Opportunity Centers, Student Support Services, and Ronald McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program would remain the same, with a new fellowship activity under McNair. The GEAR-UP program would focus solely on middle school students (through partnerships between higher education institutions and school districts), while the Talent Search program would serve these eligible students when they enter high school.
UNCF believes that significant modification in the current Federal Student Financial Assistance Programs is necessary. As a general rule, all Title IV aid eligibility would be limited to five academic years (three semesters each year). The Pell Grant program should be an entitlement (tied to the CPI for Service and Clerical Workers), with an initial maximum award of $6,750. This maximum award would apply to three semesters of academic study for students carrying at least 12 semester hours and making satisfactory progress toward a baccalaureate degree. The current Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program would be modified, and re-named the "Super Pell Grant." The Super Pell award would have a statutory minimum grant of $2,000 (for "0" EFC and negative EFC recipients), with no authorized maximum award. In addition, each Super Pell Grant recipient would qualify for an additional $1,000 in the first-year of academic study if the student earned a cumulative 3.0 high school GPA; and $1,000 in the second year of academic study if the student earns a 3.0 GPA in the first year of academic study.
The current Perkins Loan Federal Capital Contributions (FCC) program would no longer receive an appropriation from the Congress, effectively eliminating the FCC to eligible college and universities. Rather, those funds would be allocated to the "Super Pell Grant" program. Institutions would be allowed to administer their extant Institutional Revolving Fund to make grants, loans, and work-study to Title IV eligible students. Instead of burdensome regulations, these institutions now would only be required to submit an annual audit to the Department assuring awards are made to Title IV eligible students.
UNCF also recommends abolishing the annual and cumulative loan limits for the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) and the Ford Direct Student Loan Program. Instead, students would have a five-year subsidized "line of credit" totaling $75,000 from which to pay college tuition, room and board, fees, and other costs of attendance. The student and the financial aid officer would determine the amount of annual debt limited by the cost of attendance. A student would only be eligible for this "line of credit" for five years of academic study (3 semesters per year/12 semester hours each semester). After the five years, the student would pay for any additional time required to complete the BA/BS using unsubsidized loans. Graduate and professional school students would lose their access to subsidized loans; however, a student who completed a bachelor's degree in three years could use his or her remaining two years of undergraduate Pell grant and subsidized loan eligibility for graduate or professional school study.
Loan forgiveness would be tied to public and community service, i.e., students who enter employment with the Federal, State or local government, or a non-profit, community service organization would be eligible for loan forgiveness. All career-focused, special-interest loan forgiveness features for Perkins, FFELP and Ford Direct would be repealed (no new borrowers).
UNCF further recommends that the Federal Work Study program be modified so that students who undertake career-related internships and externships do not have their summer or academic-year earnings included in determining their eligibility for Title IV aid for the subsequent academic year. Additionally, the shift in focus to community service through loan forgiveness eliminates the need for a community service requirement in the Federal Work Study Program.
Moreover, UNCF believes that student access and persistence will be encouraged by stimulating student excellence in high school and rewarding it in college; by providing additional grant aid through a Pell Grant entitlement and an enhanced Super Pell Grant; and by encouraging community and public service through simplified loan forgiveness. In addition, UNCF urges the Department to make provisions - in the Federal TRIO Student Support Services Program - for competitive awards to institutions that enroll 50% or more Pell Grant recipients. Such institutions would be given "priority consideration" in new competition with other new grantees. This will strengthen academic support programs at colleges and universities with large numbers of lower income students and reinforce the considerable Federal investment devoted to these aid recipients.
(b) Improving HEA Program Efficiency and Effectiveness
UNCF already has outlined several recommended changes that it believes will strengthen existing programs, retire others, and modify critical programs for the family and student financial challenges. The above-mentioned recommendations also support individual institutional management by objective that complies with current departmental regulations, and that meet demonstrated student demands of the 21st Century. UNCF recommends the deregulation of one of the Title IV programs (Perkins Loans); the simplification of "loan forgiveness;" and the effective combining of FSEOG and the Pell Grant programs - resulting in one grant and one loan program. UNCF's "line of credit" will also eliminate the need for private label loans, often with high interest rates and cumbersome repayment obligations. In addition, UNCF's "loan forgiveness" proposal will result in reduced student loan defaults, because of the attention to forgiveness in the early years after graduation when default rates are their highest.
(c) Reducing or Eliminating Unnecessary Burdens on Students and Institutions
The quickest way to reduce student and institutional burdens in the Title IV programs would be to eliminate the non-student aid regulatory compliance requirements. Specifically, UNCF recommends removal of:
- the determination of Title IV eligibility based on the presence of a drug conviction;
- the determination of Title IV eligibility contingent upon selective service registration;
- the nexus between campus crime reporting and institutional aid eligibility;
- the nexus between Title IV aid eligibility and student passage of state teacher certification examinations;
- differential application of Title IV student eligibility among high school diploma, GED, or ability-to-benefit test passage to "home schoolers".
However, UNCF does not support the application of any new statutory or regulatory requirements, e.g., a persistence or completion rate standard.
In each of the above instances, either student or institutional Title IV aid eligibility is being used to achieve an unrelated policy objective. Students and institutions bearing no relationship to the articulated legislative objective risk losing aid through no fault of their own. These unrelated legislative or policy objectives may be worthy, but they impose paperwork burdens and administrative oversight responsibilities on institutions - for which they are neither compensated nor rewarded.
(d) Proposed Funding Priorities - The highest priorities for funding in the Higher Education Act must lie with the Title IV, Student Federal Assistance programs. Funding for a Pell Grant entitlement must be provided. The record of every administration since 1972 to request (and of each Congress since the enactment of the Educational Opportunity Grant Program in the 1972 Amendments to appropriate except in FY 1975, 1976, and 1979) the Pell Grant maximum award is more than ample testimony to the failure of a simple authorization of aid to assure adequate grant funding for low- and middle-income students. The "unmet need" crisis - especially at UNCF member institutions, as well as other minority-serving and "outreach institutions" - threatens the survival of these institutions and access for the students they serve.
As mentioned earlier, UNCF believes the Perkins Loan program has survived its usefulness for two reasons. First, Congress already is funding two campus-based loan programs. Second, Perkins does not serve the vast number of poor students given the participating institutions and because of the vagaries of the formula that allocates FCC funds to those institutions. Very few HBCUs, HSIs and Tribal Colleges and Universities, nor community colleges participate in the Perkins program; and those that do, benefit minimally from the FCC distribution formula. The $100 million FCC would be better spent in UNCF's proposed Super Pell Grant program.
UNCF also believes the Department needs to revisit and revise its model for projecting and predicting student participation in the Pell Grant program. It is clear, based on recent experience, that the departmental model is no longer an accurate predictor of low and middle-income student participation. We believe that the current model deserves review and reform.
UNCF urges the Department to re-examine its approach to the Federal-State partnership inherent in the Leveraging Educational Assistance Program (LEAP, formerly State Student Incentive Grants). UNCF believes that this partnership is necessary to increase the availability of grant aid for needy students, which has diminished with the proliferation of state merit-based aid. UNCF proposes the following: (1) a $1,000 floor for each grant that could be made available on a merit, need or other basis at the State's option; (2) the Federal government would provide a "dollar for dollar" match for grants to needy students up to a maximum of $4,000 (in other words the next $3,000); (3) in the event of a declared need within the State, e.g., need to train teachers, nurses, information technology professionals, etc., the Governor could request a "waiver" of the match based on need for specified careers for one year, renewable for a second year; and (4) the Secretary would grant such waiver requests based upon statutory criteria.
In addition to the necessary focus on student assistance, the Federal Government has a profound commitment to the Nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
UNCF believes that the need is clear, but the Government's response far too often has been limited. UNCF strongly supports the 2001-2002 Annual Report of the President's Board of Advisors on HBCUs and its focus on "capacity building" under President's Bush's Executive Order 13256, and the recommendation that overall HBCU funding be increased to 10 % of Federal funding to all institutions of higher education over the next five years. UNCF hopes that a special focus of Title III funding will continue to be Part B (including section 326), but will also include the Part C Endowment-Challenge Grant Program.
The Federal role in ensuring the quality of higher education is limited - as it should be as stipulated under the Constitution and under the Department of Education Organization Act of 1979. Rather than looking for new ways for the Federal Government to enhance quality, the Department would do well to strengthen its assigned statutory role. For example, the Secretary is responsible for certification of regional and specialized accrediting bodies (Title IV, HEA, Part H, Subpart 2). The re-certification procedure relies, almost exclusively, on a complaint process, to highlight accreditor shortcomings. The Department does not always responded to serious deficiencies even when they are brought to its attention. For example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has a deficient and perceived discriminatory record with respect to sanctioning HBCUs - a record which the Department, with minimal effort, could explore and document. There is adequate prima facie evidence of the problem already presented to the Secretary by UNCF. Even with this evidence in hand, SACS was recertified, rather than withholding the recertification and investigating the evidence. Moreover, SACS adopted new criteria and hearing and appeals procedures, which will take affect in 2004, at its December 2001 Annual Meeting. The 2004 hearing and appeals procedures adopt a provision prohibiting a member institution, being subjected to withdrawal of accreditation, from being represented by counsel at the appeals hearing (a clear violation of section 496 (a)(6)(D) of the Higher Education Act). Moreover, UNCF believes that the initial hearing or "interview" provided for under current SACS withdrawal of accreditation procedures does not meet minimum "due process" requirements. Recently, a Federal District Court Judge in Georgia found fault with SACS on "due process" grounds at the investigative stage of the SACS accrediting process (See Auburn Univ. v. Southern Ass'n. of Colleges and Schools, (Civ.No.1:01-CV-2069-JOF, January 14, 2002). UNCF questions why the Department would seek a larger role in determining the quality of higher education provided to students when it faces challenges in fully implementing its current oversight and approval role.
UNCF has a final concern about the differential application of student eligibility rules for Title IV. "Home-schooled" students should be required to pass a GED or an "ability-to-benefit" as is the case with every other student who receives Title IV, Student Financial Assistance. No statutory or regulatory differentiation should be made. To do otherwise
devalues the high school diploma, and is inconsistent with the Department's high standards and accountability posture.
(e) Tax Incentives and Higher Education
UNCF has very serious concerns about the use of tax credits and other tax-based provisions as a means of fulfilling the Federal commitment to educational opportunity in higher education. Not only do such approaches provide assistance to those who do not need Federal help in gaining access to postsecondary education, but also they reduce federal revenues available to provide grants, loans and work-study assistance to those students and families who do need help. UNCF opposes any expansion of existing individual tax-incentives (e.g., Hope Scholarships, etc., except Hope amendments that cover books, supplies, and equipment and other incentives that would not reduce the tax credit by Pell Grant and FSEOG amounts). UNCF supports those tax proposals designed to exclude from a student's taxable income scholarships and graduate teaching and research assistance stipends, as well as proposals that encourage pre-college saving, and provide tax deductions for individual and corporate donors who make direct contributions to institutions of higher education or to tax-exempt organizations like UNCF.
(f) Measuring Results
In general, evaluation criteria should be tied to the statutory purposes and objectives set forth in the law. For example, UNCF notes that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has arrived at some arbitrary conclusions and, in its view, erroneous judgments about existing programs that were included in the "Budget of the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2004." The Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) evaluation rated the Pell Grant Program as "Moderately Effective." The PART evaluation criticizes the program because: (1) low and moderate income students still lag behind higher income students in college participation; (2) net overawards to students annually total more than $350 million due to underreporting of family income; and (3) of student persistence and graduation. However, none of these issues are properly associated with the statutory purposes or objectives of the Pell Grant program. The Pell Grant "shortfall" is more than adequate testimony to the success of the Pell Grant program in providing grant aid to eligible low and middle-income students - more students than the Administration, Department and Congress are presently capable of funding. Since Pell is a completely Department-administered program, it is the Department's responsibility to "catch" over-awarded students who may be understating family income to qualify for higher grants. Moreover, student persistence is not, and should not be associated with the Pell program. Student persistence is a Student Support Services or institutional issue, not the responsibility of financial aid.
(g) New Programs
UNCF recommends the addition of one new program and a new activity under another. First, there is an optional activity for McNair grantees under the McNair Fellowship, Subpart 2, Chapter 1, section 402E. This new activity would 'close the loop' in the Federal intervention and outreach efforts for low-income, first-generation, and disabled student access to higher education. UNCF also recommends authorizing the Patsy T.
Mink Fellowship program to provide fellowship assistance at the NSF-funded level for minority and women candidates for the doctoral degree who commit to entering the higher education professoriate. Failure to complete the service requirement, i.e., one year of instruction for each year of financial assistance received, would result in conversion of the entire amount of the fellowship to a loan at the prevailing interest rate, plus a penalty established by the Secretary.
In addition, UNCF urges further statutory clarification of the "twelve-hour rule", specifically establishing parameters for a different cost of attendance and payment schedule for distance education than standard semester or quarter academic programs. UNCF also supports revision of the Negotiated Rulemaking process.
Dr. Norman C. Francis, Chairman of UNCF's Government Affairs Committee, Dr Shirley A.R. Lewis, who chairs UNCF's HEA Reauthorization Subcommittee, and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your staff to discuss UNCF's recommendations. Leslie Atkinson, UNCF's Director of Government Affairs, will be in touch with your office to schedule a mutually convenient time for a meeting. We understand your schedule will not allow you to be in New York to meet with our member Presidents; however we look forward to hosting Jeff Andrade, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education.
Thank you for this opportunity to communicate UNCF's viewpoints on the Higher Education Act reauthorization.
William H. Gray, III
cc: UNCF Presidents