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 "WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Higher education leaders from throughout the country joined public policy makers and corporate supporters on Capitol Hill this week to call for greater investments in the college and career development needs of the nation's youngest and largest ethnic population.

""In the midst of war and domestic economic uncertainties, we came together to present a compelling case for education access and excellence that will be critical to our country's long-term economic success and national security,"" said Antonio R. Flores, President and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

""Improving the quality of education for all of our nation's children, not just some of our nation's children, should be an obsession that all of us should share,"" U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick Paige told participants at the HACU 2003 National Capitol Forum on Hispanic Higher Education this week in Washington, D.C. ""Education is a sacred, civil right,"" Paige said at the three-day meeting in Washington, D.C.

Leaders of many of HACU's 340 member colleges and universities, included Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), presented a unified, grass roots voice during the organization's annual day of Visits to Capitol Hill to meet with the leadership of the House and Senate to advocate for record new federal investments in Hispanic higher education.

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, co-founder and co-chair of the Senate HSI Coalition, pledged her continuing support for efforts to address Hispanic higher education needs. Hutchison and the Coalition, which is co-chaired by U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, have been instrumental in winning a series of record federal spending increases for Hispanic higher education in recent years. Hutchison won several rounds of applause as she was presented with an award for supporting HACU from Flores and Salme Steinberg, president of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and chair of the HACU Governing Board.

At the Capitol Forum, Flores called for creation of a House HSI Coalition to mirror the mission and efforts of the Senate HSI Coalition. HSIs have a student enrollment rate that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. HACU's membership collectively serves more than two-thirds of all Hispanic higher education students in the United States. Various U.S. Representatives expressed support and a willingness to serve in the proposed House HSI Coalition.

HACU's Legislative Agenda is calling for a series of increases in appropriations to HSIs and other higher education institutions with large Hispanic student populations, as well as increased investments in pre-collegiate programs. Hispanics suffer the lowest high school and college graduation rates of any major population group.

HSIs also receive less federal funding on average per student compared to all other degree-granting institutions. ""We still only get about 50 cents on the dollar per student, compared to other institutions,"" Flores said in joining presidents and chancellors of HACU member colleges and universities to urge an end to federal funding inequities.

HACU is calling for an increase in federal appropriations to HSIs under Title V of the Higher Education Act (HEA) from $93 million in federal fiscal year (FY) 2003 to $175 million for FY 2004, along with new or expanded appropriations within the budgets of several federal agencies.

HACU also is calling for increased long-term investments in Hispanic higher education within a reauthorized HEA. Congress this year will begin the reauthorization process, which will determine federal spending priorities for all higher education institutions for the next five years.

""If our goal as a nation truly is to leave no child behind, then we must leave no Hispanic student behind,"" said U.S. Representative Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Menendez is the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congressional history.

Standing ovations greeted Menendez and U.S. Representative Ruben Hinojosa, the chair of the Education Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who led the successful effort to win unprecedented new federal recognition and support for HSIs during the last reauthorization in 1998.

Funding for HSIs has increased from $10 million since 1998 to more than $150 million for this current federal fiscal year, which includes the new $93 million Title V appropriation and individual federal agency appropriations targeting HSIs that have evolved since 1998. ""It's clear we're gaining momentum. We must keep that momentum going,"" Hinojosa said.

Federal spending increases will become especially critical at a time when budget shortfalls in more than 45 states already are leading to ""draconian"" cuts in higher education and other programs, Hinojosa said.

""Aside from the war effort, and that's taking a lot of our resources, we're very much focused on higher education,"" said U.S. Representative Howard McKeon of California. “We do not have the luxury of allowing any generation of students to fall through the cracks.”

Senator George Allen of Virginia won applause for his efforts to bring more technology to under-served HSIs with his recent introduction of the proposed Digital and Wireless Network Technology Program Act. U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona also was applauded for calling for greater investments in education from kindergarten through college to lay the groundwork early for academic success.

“We’ll be advocates together,” said Leslie Sanchez, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. She called for a new national repository of model programs that are reducing low Hispanic high school and college graduation rates.

“Our students cannot afford for us to slow down right now, even though the economy is bad,” said Charles Reed, chancellor of the 23-campus California State University System, citing education cutbacks already under way in California due to state budget shortfalls.

Representatives of several federal agencies also attended the Capitol Forum to stress their support for Hispanic higher education programs and efforts to increase the numbers of Hispanics in federal workforce and management ranks. “Our work with HACU is very important,” said Clarence Johnson of the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Equal Opportunity.

HACU presented special awards to AT&T, Gateway, Altria, ACT, Eastman Kodak, The College Board, Coca-Cola, Miller Brewing, Denny’s and Freddie Mac for sponsoring the Capitol Forum and for being year-round corporate sector leaders for Hispanic higher education.

The HACU Capitol Forum was under way as the U.S. Supreme Court was considering two new affirmative action cases challenging efforts to increase diversity in the classroom in higher education. HACU has joined with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and other national minority education and civil rights organizations in support of the University of Michigan. The HACU member university is the defendant in both cases challenging affirmative action policies at the campus.

""Affirmative action is needed to establish a diverse learning environment. It benefits Latino students, and it benefits non-Latino students,"" MALDEF Regional Counsel Marissa Demeo said.

""Should we lose, there will be an onslaught of attacks on financial aid programs and any other programs that seek to assist disenfranchised populations,"" said Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic and Multicultural Affairs at the University of Michigan.

Monts thanked HACU and MALDEF for joining more than 100 organizations in supporting the University of Michigan's defense of its diversity policies. ""We're confident we are doing what is both morally and educationally correct,"" Monts said.

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