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Tuesday, February 18, 2003 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) applauds a new effort in Congress to close the widening Information Technology divide in American higher education.

“New national security priorities and a fast-changing global economy now demanding a more highly educated workforce require the expedient elimination of the digital divide in our country, particularly on our college campuses,” HACU President and CEO Antonio R. Flores said.

Testimony submitted on behalf of HACU last week to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation extolled the merits of S.196, the proposed Digital and Wireless Network Technology Program Act, as an effective tool to narrow the digital divide between minority and non-minority populations in the United States.

S.196 would target $250 million in new National Science Foundation grants each year for the next five years to the country’s federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions and other Minority-Serving Institutions. These historically under-funded colleges and universities serve the largest concentrations of Hispanic and other minority students in the United States.

Ricardo Fernandez, President of Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York, testified before the Senate Committee on Thursday on behalf of HACU and the Hispanic higher education community in support of what Fernandez labeled “this critically important bill.” Lehman College is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and one of 340 HACU member colleges and universities, which collectively serve more than two-thirds of all U.S. Hispanic higher education students.

“It is well known that the Latino population has rapidly expanded to become the largest minority group in absolute numbers in the nation. The number of HSIs is expected to grow proportionately over the next five to 10 years. Our nation and economy will demand that Latinos be educated and trained in the latest technological innovations,” Fernandez testified. “S.196, as written, would serve to provide Minority-Serving Institutions, including HSIs, with important and urgently needed resources to meet the quality demands in educational training required in our technological driven society.”

Fernandez, a member and past chair of the HACU Governing Board, also is vice chair of the Governing Board of the American Association of Higher Education and chair of the Hispanic Educational Telecommunications System, or HETS. HETS is a consortium of 18 HSIs engaged in distance education.

At Lehman College, 44 percent of the students are Hispanic and 33 percent are African-American. “Therefore, any programs that assist such HSIs will also benefit other minority group members attending such institutions,” Fernandez testified.

S.196 was introduced in January by Senator George Allen of Virginia as a bipartisan measure co-sponsored by Senators Ted Stevens of Alaska, John McCain of Arizona, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina.

The bill would provide grants for new technology equipment and infrastructure expansion, as well as new faculty development, classroom technology, training, technology partnership and technology education leadership development opportunities for eligible HSIs and other Minority-Serving Institutions.

Fernandez said an important component of S.196 is a clause allowing a waiver of the traditional matching-funds requirement for higher education institutions with no endowment or with an endowment of less than $50 million in current value.

“This is vital for most minority institutions. Most Minority-Serving Institutions have small endowments, and many have no endowments at all,” Fernandez said. “Without a waiver of this provision, they would be effectively foreclosed from taking advantage of the funding opportunities provided for in this bill.”

According to a series of reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce on the digital divide, more than one half of U.S. households have computers and more than four of every ten have Internet access. For Hispanic households, the numbers are only one-third and about two of every ten, respectively. In 2000, Hispanics made almost 27 percent less individual use of the Internet than non-Hispanic whites. In a later 2001 report, the gap grew to more than 28 percent – showing a recent widening of the digital divide.

For more information, contact HACU at (210) 692-3805, Ext. 3214. Or visit www.hacu.net.

For a copy of the testimony, click here!.