Secretary of Education Duncan Joins HACU to Discuss College Costs

Last month, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) hosted a roundtable featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and leaders of more than a dozen Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to discuss President Obama’s commitment to make college more affordable.

Below is a letter from President & CEO Antonio R. Flores to Secretary Duncan in response to that meeting.

The Honorable Arne Duncan

United States Secretary of Education

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan:

On behalf of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), I want to express our appreciation for your meeting with a group of Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) leaders and me on October 25. We are especially grateful that you took the time to listen to our concerns about the President’s Plan to Make College More Affordable. As was clear from the meeting, the presidents in attendance (and, I’m sure, the leadership of all our member institutions) are deeply committed to both the affordability agenda and the need for transparency in higher education costs and quality.

Equally clear were our reservations about the proposed rating system. As several noted, institutions like ours that seek to serve low-income, first-generation populations have not been fairly treated by the popular iterations of rating/ranking schema. Failing to take into account the institutional mission, the characteristics of the student population served, and especially the value added by the educational experience will perpetuate a distorted picture of American higher education, one that will have long-lasting adverse effects on our nation’s intellectual and workforce capital. The Administration’s assurance that this new approach will be different assumes metrics and data not currently available. While we are hopeful, we trust you understand our skepticism.

As was also noted, HSIs are essential to meeting the needs of the majority of Latinos in higher education today, a population critical to the 21st century American workforce. Furthermore, their mission to an underserved population means serving disproportionate numbers of low-income, first-generation students. However, HSIs continue to be dramatically underfunded, receiving on average on 68 cents for every dollar of federal funding that other colleges and universities receive, on a per full-time-equivalent student basis. We understand the difficult appropriations environment in Washington at this time. Nonetheless, we expect an Administration committed to education to at least request levels of appropriations for HSIs more in keeping with their mission and their need. Asking only for level funding fails to keep pace with the growing number of HSIs eligible to compete for Title V HSI grants.

While a number of additional points were raised during the meeting, the only other issue I want to recall to your attention is our request for a President’s Advisory Board on HSIs, parallel to long-standing Boards for HBCUs and Tribal Colleges. The absence of such a board continues to relegate HSIs and their important mission to an afterthought. As a consequence, the much-needed progress in increasing Hispanic educational attainment continues to be painfully slow. During the last few weeks, I have read of the President’s meeting personally with HBCU representatives and another White House meeting with representatives of selective universities to address their outreach to minority and low-income students. With all due respect, the selective, and wealthy, universities will never be able to meet the higher education needs of the burgeoning Latino population, not for lack of will or student aptitude, but simply for lack of capacity. If the Administration is serious about improving Latino education, it must pay more attention to HSIs. A President’s Advisory Board is a good first step. This is a matter of national security and paramount to our nation’s future as a world power.

Thank you gain for calling this meeting and for your presence and evident readiness to listen to us. As always, we look forward to working with you to make a real difference in the lives of the students we serve.

Most respectfully,

Antonio R. Flores

President and CEO, HACU

(L-R) Dr. Antonio Flores, Congressman Rubn Hinojosa, and the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

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