Senator Doug Jones announces bipartisan solution to permanently fund HBCUs and simplify federal student aid application

Legislation includes permanent funding for HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions by eliminating administrative costs associated with FAFSA
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce a solution to both permanently fund Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and to take a first step toward simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Annual funding for MSIs expired on September 30, 2019.The solution proposed today by Senator Jones and his colleagues amends his FUTURE Act legislation to permanently renew $255 million in annual funding for HBCUs and MSIs, and will also simplify the FAFSA by reducing it by up to 22 questions. The amendment is paid for through reduced administrative costs achieved by allowing FAFSA applicants to give permission to the Internal Revenue Service to securely share tax return data directly with the U.S. Department of Education.
“The permanent renewal of federal funding is a huge win for our nation’s minority-serving institutions, which have faced growing uncertainty and anxiety since their $255 million in annual funding expired in September. Instead of making tough decisions to cut programs and staff this holiday season, they can now count on permanent funding that will enable them to plan long-term and focus on their educational mission,” said Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Senator Jones has long championed the renewal of funding for minority-serving schools and also for simplification of the burdensome FAFSA form, which has proven to be a significant barrier for students who need financial assistance in order to afford college. Last year, Senator Jones proposed an ambitious bill topermanently extend and increase federal funding for MSIs before it was set to expire on September 30 this year. In the new session of Congress this year, he proposed a bipartisan bill, the FUTURE Act, to extend the funding for two years and give Congress time to negotiate a permanent solution. As the September 30th deadline approached, and in the months since the Senate allowed funding to expire, Senator Jones has worked to bring attention to the bill and has repeatedly pressured Senate leaders to allow it to come to a vote.
Senator Jones has also recently partnered with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the HELP Committee, to introduce legislation that would reduce the FAFSA form from 108 questions to between 18-30. Today’s proposal is a necessary first step to lay the groundwork for the passage of the broader Jones-Alexander FAFSA reform bill.
Senator Jones continued, speaking on the importance of FAFSA simplification, “With our proposal today, we also take an important first step toward simplifying our federal student aid application and helping more students achieve the dream of a college education. I thank my colleagues Senators Alexander and Murray for working to find a bipartisan compromise on two issues that deeply important to the people we serve.”
Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Senator Jones in introducing the amendment.

Newswire : HBCU funding blocked by Senate Education Chair

By Charlene Crowell

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Each year as families beam with pride at seeing a son, daughter or another relative graduate from college, that achievement is nearly always the result of a family’s commitment to higher education. And when these institutions are among the more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), that pride is magnified by the history of how our forefathers overcame what once seemed to be insurmountable challenges.

According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, between 1861 and 1900 more than 90 HBCUs were founded. From the first HBCU, Pennsylvania’s Cheney University, established in 1837, ensuing years led to even more educational opportunities that today include institutions spread across 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

So when federal legislation is blocked that would extend and preserve funding for HBCUs, such actions are not only an affront to today’s college students, but also to a history that has led to only 3% of the nation’s colleges and universities educating nearly 20% of all Black graduates. The success of HBCU graduates is even more noteworthy considering that 70% of students come from low-income families.

On September 26, the damaging action taken by Tennessee’s Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee blocked HBCU funding. Even worse, Senator Alexander made this move just days before funding was set to expire on September 30.

The bill sponsored and introduced on May 2 by Alabama Senator Doug Jones and co-sponsored by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, was named the FUTURE Act,an acronym for Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources Act. It began with bipartisan and bicameral support to extend critical HBCU and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs) funding through 2021 for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

“Alabama is home to 14 outstanding HBCUs that serve as a gateway to the middle class for many first-generation, low-income, and minority Americans,” stated Sen. Jones. The FUTURE Act will help ensure these historic schools and all minority-serving institutions continue to provide excellent education opportunities for their students.”

Senator Scott agreed, adding “We all have a role to play in making the dream of college a reality for those who wish to pursue their education. The eight HBCUs in South Carolina have made a significant impact in our communities, creating thousands of jobs which translates to over $5 billion in lifetime earnings for their graduates.”

By September 18, a total of 15 Senators signed on as co-sponsors, including eight Republicans representing the additional states of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia. Other Democratic Senators signing on represented Arizona, California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Montana, Virginia and West Virginia.
On the House side, two North Carolina Representatives, Rep. Alma Adams and her colleague Mark Walker introduced that chamber’s version that quickly passed in just two days before Alexander’s actions on the Senate floor.

So why would the HELP Committee Chair oppose a bill that had such balanced support – in both chambers as well as geographically and by party?

“Congress has the time to do this,” said Sen. Alexander on the floor of the Senate. “While the legislation expires at the end of September, the U.S. Department of Education has sent a letter assuring Congress that there is enough funding for the program to continue through the next fiscal year.”
Alexander concluded his comments by using his remarks to push for a limited set of policy proposals that would amend the Higher Education Act piece by piece.

His comments prompt a more basic question: Why is it that Congress has failed to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) for so many years?

Competing HEA legislative proposals with different notions have been bandied about since 2014. Most of these ideas were variations of promises for improved access, affordability, and accountability, simplified financial aid applications and appropriate levels of federal support.
Yet for families faced with a financial tug of war between rising costs of college and stagnant incomes, Congress’ failure to act on higher education translates into more student loans, and longer years of repayment.

The same day as Senator Alexander’s block of the bill, Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education at The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families, reacted with a statement.
“The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is of vital importance to millions of students who currently struggle to afford college, lack adequate supports while enrolled, and are underserved by a system that perpetuates racial inequity,” said Pilar. “Students need a federal policy overhaul that addresses these issues and acts to close racial and socioeconomic equity gaps, and they can’t afford to wait any longer.”
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Charlene Crowell is the Deputy Communications Director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.