Report: College Aid Changes Could Hurt Latino Students

A new report by a federal advisory committee concludes that several proposed need-based financial aid changes to the Higher Education Act (HEA) could threaten the completion rates of low-income college students, and in particular Latino and black students.

The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which issued the “Inequality Matters” report, is a federal advisory committee chartered by Congress that provides advice to the U.S. Department of Education on financial aid policy.

The report says that a number of proposed changes could hurt students. They include denying aid based on students being at-risk of not completing their degrees, demanding budget-neutral funding of TItle IV Student Aid, eliminating Pell Grants to fund block grants to the states, dismantling partnerships in need-based student grant aid, and relying only on improvements to student aid.

The report also provides data broken out by race ethnicity on college enrollment and completion.

Related Links:

– “Exacerbating Inequality,” Inside Higher Ed. 

– “Inequality Matters, A Policy Bulletin for HEA Authorization,” Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.

Florida Scholarship Changes Could Hurt Latino Students

A Florida scholarship program known as Bright Futures may soon no longer have such a sunny reputation.

Recently announced eligibility requirement changes mean that significantly fewer Latino and black students will qualify for assistance. The required minimum GPA of 3.0 will remain the same.

State Impact reports that students graduating in the spring of 2014 would have to score at least a 1170 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT. Students now must score 1020 on the SAT or 22 on the ACT.

The Florida College Access Network is pushing for scholarship eligibility requirements that don’t rely so heavily on standardized test scores, but instead will forgive lower scores if a student’s grade point average is high–and vice versa. The group also wants income to be a factor.

An analysis by the University of South Florida obtained by the access network found that 87% of Latino freshmen at state universities entering between summer/fall 2010 and summer/fall 2011 met the standards, but just 35%would qualify under the new requirements.

Additionally, between 7,000 -7,500 Hispanic freshmen met criteria for Bright Futures for Fall 2012, only between 2,700- 3,000 students would meet the new criteria set for Fall 2014, a drop of more than 60%.

Meanwhile University of Florida President Bernie Machen wrote an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times supporting the changes, saying that they would help keep the program solid financial and able to continue.

“When the Florida Legislature created the Bright Futures scholarship in 1997, lawmakers never intended the program to help students based on their racial status or family income,” Machen wrote. “Rather, the scholarship had only one purpose: to provide a financial incentive for Florida’s most academically talented students to attend the state’s public universities, raising the quality of their experience in college and improving our universities as a whole.”

He argues that minority and low-income students can be assisted through other programs. He cited the Florida Opportunity Scholars, which covers tuition and board for students first in their family to attend college and coming from homes earning less than $40,000 a year.

Meanwhile Florida College Access Network executive director Braulio Colon expressed that Bright Futures should offer access to more students.

“We believe all students can rise and meet high academic standards,” Colon said, and State Impact reported. “But the current scheduled increase in eligibility requirements for this important scholarship program is a dramatic jump that jeopardizes access for thousands of college-going students and relies too heavily on standardized test scores for measuring academic merit.”

State Rep. Ricardo Rangel, a Democrat, has filed a bill that would keep the standards the same, but The Miami Herald reports that it seems unlikely to pass. He relates because he learned English as a second language (his parents were immigrants from Ecuador) and struggled with the SAT–but went on to earn a master’s degree.

But Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Republican who is chair of the higher education panel, agreed with the changes.

“Are we going to say that Hispanic students can’t measure up?” the Miami Herald reported.

Related Links:

– “Change to Bright Futures scholarships hits poor, minorities,” The Miami Herald. 

– “More than Half of Black and Hispanic Students Will No Longer Qualify for Bright Futures Scholarships,” State Impact/NPR.

– “Column: Making futures

– “Number of Bright Futures scholarships awarded to Hispanic university students expected to drop by over 60%,” Florida College Access Network.

– Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program

Report: Consider Latinos When Redesigning Federal Financial Aid

The advocacy group Excelencia in Education has released a new report focused on the importance of taking the Latino college student experience into consideration if and when the federal financial aid system in the United States is redesigned.

“Using a Latino Lens to Reimagine Aid Design and Delivery” was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While Latinos certainly should not be viewed as a monolithic group, Excelencia finds that certain scenarios are more common among Hispanic students.

For example, they are more likely to attend community colleges, take courses part-time while working, study online and at multiple colleges, live off campus with family and take more than four years to complete their degree.

“Using the profile of America’s young and growing Latino population as the baseline, rather than the footnote, to define the post-traditional student, we are providing a fresh perspective on financial aid policy for all students,” said Deborah Santiago, Excelencia’s vice president for policy and research, in a news release.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on some of the more significant recommendations in the paper. One controversial example is recommending that students be required to complete a Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA) form when they apply to college. The publication said Santiago argued in favor of such a stance because too many Latino students are not receiving grants or loans because they don’t complete their forms.

In addition, the white paper pushes for increased investment in college preparation and work study programs, making Pell grants an entitlement that guarantees support to low-income students, and revising the expected family contribution formula and what “sufficient” funds are.

 The Chronicle also points out that the government programs giving out aid (Perkins loans, supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Federal Work Study) benefit colleges that joined back in the 1970s when the programs were launched–large public universities and private colleges in the North.

But Santiago points out that Latinos are flooding colleges in the Southwest United States, which need more aid.

The organization also shared four student profiles in their report, to humanize the issue. As reporters, profiling students in similar situations would be a way to make this story resonate more with readers.

For example, Excelencia cites one example of a 24-year-old Mexican-American woman named Yuridia. She works full-time, holds a GED and has children. She applied to only one college, because it was close to her home. She was not well-informed about financial aid, so she did not apply during her first year.

Clearly, many students face more than one challenge to completing their degrees.

Looking for these stories of such students can be illuminating.

Related Links:

– “Using a Latino Lens to Re-imagine Aid Design and Delivery,” Excelencia in Education. 

– “Aid System Could Better Serve Latino Students, Says Report Calling for Reforms,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

– “At Capitol Hill briefing, Excelencia in Education urges policy makers to apply Latino student experience to revamp of federal financial aid.” 

Student Debt Discourages Latinos from Enrolling in STEM Programs

The urgent need to increase the number of young people pursuing degrees in STEM areas–science, technology, engineering and math–is a hot topic in education circles. Especially during the current economic slump, having a bachelor’s and graduate degrees in these disciplines can have a better return on investment than other areas of study.

But how can you collect that return, if you can’t even afford to invest in a degree ? A recent report, Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions, by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California calls for changes in financial aid policy  that could increase the numbers of Latinos going into STEM careers. The study is the fourth in a series of reports funded by the National Science Foundation as part of an effort to increase Latinos’ access to STEM fields.

“We’ve seen some good news with the number of Latinos completing master’s and doctoral degrees but this critical demographic is still severely underrepresented among all STEM master’s and doctoral degree recipients,” said Lindsey E. Malcom, the report’s co-author.

The study’s authors say that Latino students’ tendency to borrow at high rates for their undergraduate education limits their ability to pursue a graduate education. The researchers found that Latinos graduating with high undergraduate debt when compared with others in their graduating class are 17 percent less likely than graduates with no debt to pursue further higher education within two years. The impact of debt on Latino students’ aspirations appears more severe than on other groups. Researchers say that in comparison, white, Asian or black students with high debt are 5-6 percent less likely to pursue graduate education. In addition, Latinos with low debt are also about 13.8 percent less likely to pursue higher-level degrees.

“For Latino students, who average higher levels of financial need than any other racial-ethnic group, a recurring concern has been that debt aversion, or a reluctance to borrow, constrains college choices and limits access to institutions with higher sticker prices, like privates and highly selective colleges and universities,” the study notes. “This is a particular concern because these same highly selective institutions often have more extensive and wide-ranging academic programs in STEM fields.”

The authors’ recommendations include expanding research assistant and work-study opportunities in STEM areas at colleges and universities serving large Latino enrollments, such as Hispanic serving institutions.

HSI’s that are granted federal Title V STEM funds also must be monitored to make sure they are successful in their efforts to promote Latino students’ success in the disciplines. The funding is partially meant to improve transfer rates from community colleges to four-year universities.

A previous report by the center found that very few Hispanics who hold bachelor’s degrees in STEM career areas had first earned an associate’s degree and then transferred. But the benefits of starting at a community college include lower student debt.

The report’s co-authors also urged the need to grow the federal Pell grant program, keep interest rates steady and disaggregate student loan debt data by race and ethnicity.

When you report on the issue, request data on the number of Latinos enrolled in undergraduate and graduate-level STEM programs from your local colleges and universities. Then ask the institutions if they have any initiatives to increase the numbers of Hispanics enrolled in the programs.

You can also turn to organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering as resources and The National Math and Science Initiative.

Related Links:

“Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions.” Center for Urban Education.

“Are Hispanics America’s Next Great STEM Innovators?” Forbes. 

“Grant to Promote STEM fields for Hispanic/Latino K-12 students.” Georgia Tech Newsroom and The Goizueta Foundation.

“Increasing Access of Underrepresented Groups to High-Quality, Career-Readying Science, Technology and Mathematics Education.” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.