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  Congressional leaders join HACU in support of national Hispanic higher education agenda

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Leading members of Congress joined the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) on Capitol Hill today to call for unprecedented new federal spending on the higher education needs of the nation’s largest ethnic population

“Hispanics are fueling the growth of America’s workforce. Hispanics account for one of every three new workers, and are projected to make up one of every two new workers joining the workforce by 2025. Yet, Hispanics continue to have the lowest level of educational attainment of any major group,” said U.S. Representative Ruben Hinojosa of Texas.

“If we do not invest in the advanced education and training of this emerging population, we put our nation’s economic foundation at risk,” said Hinojosa, chair of the education task force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

HACU unveiled a comprehensive series of proposals to amend the Higher Education Act, which governs all federal higher education spending, to target record new federal investments in student financial aid, teacher training, technology and infrastructure support for the nation’s more than 200 Hispanic-Serving Institutions, or HSIs.

“Everyone in this country will benefit from our proposals to provide this population the advanced knowledge and skills that will so dramatically contribute to our nation’s future economic success, security and global leadership,” said HACU President and CEO Antonio R. Flores.

HSIs serve the largest concentrations of Hispanic higher education students in 25 states and Puerto Rico, but currently receive on average per student only a fraction of federal funding provided to all other degree-granting institutions.

Jose Vicente, president of Miami-Dade Community College’s North Campus in Florida and a member of the HACU Governing Board, said HACU’s “bold new plan” is “a blueprint for creating a new era of Hispanic higher education excellence and success.”

“Hispanics also suffer disproportionately high levels of poverty, which means student financial aid must be made available to more Hispanic higher education students,” said Dolores Fernandez, president of Hostos Community College of the City University of New York and a member of the HACU Governing Board.

U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, co-chair of the Senate Hispanic-Serving Institutions Coalition, said he anticipated strong, bipartisan support for the new “Next Generation HSIs” bill as Congress begins considering amendments to the Higher Education Act (HEA) as part of the Act’s five-year reauthorization cycle.

Members of the House and Senate attending Tuesday’s crowded news conference repeatedly expressed support for the “Next Generation HSIs” bill introduced by Bingaman in the Senate and by Hinojosa in the House. The bills would authorize $300 million in new federal spending on HSIs beginning in federal Fiscal Year 2005, including a first-time funding mechanism specifically for graduate education programs at HSIs.

More than 50 percent of Hispanic higher education students now attend two-year community colleges. Bingaman said the proposed legislation would ease the transition of Hispanic students from two-year institutions to four-year institutions in the effort to ultimately increase the numbers of Hispanic students with baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate degrees.

“It’s very important that we pass this legislation,” said U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, praising Bingaman for introducing the legislation in the Senate and U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Bingaman’s co-chair of the Senate HSIs Coalition, for signing on as principal co-sponsor.

With Hispanics expected to make up such a large part of America’s future workforce, “we better shape up and give people the American dream they work hard for,” Boxer said.

“We know the potential is there,” U.S. Rep. James Moran of Virginia said, citing the experiences of Hispanic students in Virginia who have overcome barriers to academic excellence, and urging increased support for all the nation’s under-funded HSIs.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Conference, expressed her support for Hinojosa’s House version of the “Next Generation HSIs” bill and for HACU’s continuing efforts to open more doors to college for Hispanic students. “We need HACU to be successful for our future,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Just as the “Next Generation HSIs” bills embrace key components of HACU’s HEA reauthorization proposals, Congress also is being asked to consider bills embracing HACU’s call for new federal policies allowing states the flexibility to offer affordable in-state tuition to immigrant students, regardless of their immigration status.

U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, one of the authors of the Student Adjustment Act in the House, cited examples of top students who could not have attended college had California not changed its law to allow eligible students to qualify for affordable in-state tuition rates.

Allard said the Student Adjustment Act, and the companion DREAM Act in the Senate, will give long-term resident students the opportunity to excel “and to give back to their communities and the nation as educated workers and professionals.”

HACU’s HEA reauthorization proposals also are calling for record new investments in international education at the nation’s HSIs.

U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the highest-ranking Hispanic leader on either side of the Congressional aisle as chair of the Congressional Democratic Caucus, expressed support for HACU’s proposals for a new Pan-Hispanic International Studies program and a Hispanic International Scholars and Fellows program for HSIs.

“A global economy requires globally minded leaders,” Menendez said.

HACU represents more than 300 colleges and universities collectively serving more than two-thirds of Hispanic higher education students in the United States.

For more HEA press conference pictures, click here

For more information, contact HACU national headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, at (210) 692-3805. Ext. 3214. Or visit www.hacu.net. The complete report on HACU’s Public Policy Priorities for Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act also is available at www.hacu.net.