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  WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) praised the introduction in Congress this week of a Hispanic graduate education bill to meet the advanced education needs of the nation’s youngest and largest ethnic population.

“For the first time, Congress is being asked to formally provide a vital investment in building graduate education at those colleges and universities serving the largest concentrations of Hispanic higher education students. We applaud the extraordinary leadership of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa of Texas for introducing this important new bill,” said HACU President and CEO Antonio R. Flores.

“This legislation surely will benefit all of us in providing a population that makes up one of every three new workers joining the workforce today the advanced knowledge and skills that will so dramatically contribute to our nation’s future economic success, security and global leadership,” Flores said.

Congressman Hinojosa, chair of the Education Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, on Thursday introduced the “Next Generation Hispanic-Serving Institutions” bill, which would also enhance existing undergraduate programs at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, or HSIs. The nation’s more than 200 HSIs have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.

The bill was introduced with the bipartisan support of 74 House co-sponsors from 19 states and Puerto Rico. “We are gratified by the tremendous support for this legislation from so many leading members of Congress who share Congressman Hinojosa’s commitment to higher education excellence for our diverse populations,” Flores said.

The leadership of HACU’s 300 member colleges and universities, including HSIs, has joined HACU in urging swift passage of the “Next Generation HSIs” bill. HACU’s membership collectively serves more than two-thirds of the nation’s 1.6 million Hispanic higher education students.

The bill would authorize $125 million in new federal spending each year on graduate education enhancements beginning in federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 by adding a new graduate education component to Title V of the Higher Education Act (HEA).

“Although Hispanics make up over 12 percent of the U.S. population, they currently earn only about 4 percent of master’s degrees, 3 percent of doctoral degrees and 5 percent of first professional degrees. This bill directly addresses the need to increase the numbers of under-represented Hispanics in the fields of teaching, science, engineering, medicine and technology that demand advanced degrees,” Flores said. “This bill will build a better future for all of us.”

The “Next Generation HSIs” bill would also enhance undergraduate education for HSIs by providing important amendments to Title V of the Act as part of the reauthorization of the HEA now under way in Congress. Reauthorization will determine federal spending priorities for all higher education institutions for the Act’s next five-year cycle.

“For Hispanics, who suffer the lowest high school and college graduation rates of any major population group, the ‘Next Generation’ bill provides comprehensive support to substantially increase the numbers of Hispanic Americans obtaining undergraduate and graduate degrees,” Flores said.

In addition to providing new graduate program support, the bill would increase the funding authorization level for undergraduate education at HSIs to $175 million under Title V of the HEA, beginning in FY 2005. Undergraduate Title V appropriation for HSIs for FY 2003 totaled $93 million.

Since more than half of all Hispanic higher education students now attend two-year community colleges, the bill would allow Title V funds for the first time to be used for articulation support programs to ease the transfer of two-year students to four-year colleges and universities.

The bill also would reduce regulatory burdens now hampering the efforts of many HSIs to obtain competitive Title V grants. The bill would eliminate the two-year wait-out period between applications for Title V grants, and also eliminate the 50 percent low-income assurance requirement for the definition of HSIs.

“Although HSIs are at the forefront of every major effort to serve the fastest-growing college-age population, HSIs on average receive only about half the federal funding per student accorded to all other groups of degree-granting institutions. This bill comprehensively addresses this inequity,” Flores said.

During the last HEA reauthorization cycle five years ago, Congressman Hinojosa introduced the “Higher Education for the 21st Century Act.” Passage of that Act led to new recognition for the national role of HSIs in higher education under a new Title V of the HEA, as well as substantial new multi-million dollar annual Title V appropriations for HSIs in every subsequent year.

The bill’s co-sponsors represent Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia.

Co-sponsors of the “Next Generation HSIs” bill include every member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and every member of the Congressional Hispanic Conference.

In addition to Congressman Hinojosa, Hispanic Congressional Caucus members are: Reps. Anibal Acevedo-Vila of Puerto Rico, Joe Baca of California, Xavier Becerra of California, Dennis Cardoza of California, Charles Gonzales of Texas, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Grace Napolitano of California, Ed Pastor of Arizona, Solomon Ortiz of Texas, Silvestre Reyes of Texas, Ciro Rodriguez of Texas, Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, Linda Sanchez of California, Loretta Sanchez of California, Jose Serrano of New York, Hilda Solis of California and Nydia Velazquez of New York.

Congressional Hispanic Conference members are: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Henry Bonilla of Texas, Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and David Nunes of California.

Other House co-sponsors include: Reps. Thomas Allen of Maine, Rob Andrews of New Jersey, Chris Bell of Texas, Tim Bishop of New York, Howard Berman of California, Lois Capps of California, Mike Capuano of Massachusetts, John Conyers of Michigan, Danny Davis of Illinois, Peter De Fazio of Oregon, Diane DeGette of Colorado, Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts, Gene Green of Texas, Joseph Crowley of New York, Sam Farr of California, Bob Filner of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Martin Frost of Texas and Joseph Hoeffel of Pennsylvania.

House co-sponsors also include: Reps. Rush Holt of New Jersey, Steve Israel of New York, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, Dale Kildee of Michigan, Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, John Larson of Connecticut, Zoe Lofgren of California, Karen McCarthy of Missouri, James McGovern of Massachusetts, Juanita Millender-McDonald of California, George Miller of California, Carolyn Maloney of New York, James Moran of Virginia, James Nadler of New York, Major Owens of New York, Donald Payne of New Jersey, Steve Rothman of New Jersey, Janice Schakowsky of Illinois, Adam Schiff of California, Brad Sherman of California, Vic Snyder of Arizona, John Tierney of Massachusetts, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Maxine Waters of California, Henry Waxman of California, Heather Wilson of New Mexico, Lynn Woolsey of California and David Wu of Oregon.

For more information, contact HACU’s national headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, at (210) 692-3805. Ext. 3214. Contact HACU’s Washington, D.C., offices at (202) 833-8361. Or visit www.hacu.net.