House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Community College, HBCU, & MSI Role in Economic Mobility

By Jill Desjean, Policy and Federal Relations Staff

On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment held a hearing on “Engines of Economic Mobility: The Critical Role of Community Colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions in Preparing Students for Success.” The witnesses included Dr. Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana; Dr. Patricia Alvarez McHatton, executive vice president for academic affairs, student success, and P-16 integration at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Dr. Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System; and Dr. Sandra L. Boham, president of Salish Kootenai College.

Subcommittee chair Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) opened the hearing highlighting the unique and vital roles Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and community colleges play in educating Americans as well as their successes in serving the student populations identified in their foundational missions. She also acknowledged that, due to persistent underfunding, these institutions “are forced do more with less,” and pushed for greater federal investment to support their efforts.

Ranking member Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), followed, noting that “higher education should be accessible and attainable, regardless of circumstance” and, looking forward to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, focusing on the need to provide equal access to the many pathways to economic success, including alternatives to four-year degrees, such as dual-enrollment and re-skilling programs later in life, finally stressing that investments in higher education must result in gains for both students and taxpayers.

Verret opened by stressing the broad economic impact HBCUs, including his own institution, have had on the Louisiana economy, citing a United Negro College Fund (UNCF) study showing that the six Louisiana HBCUs have filled over 8,000 jobs, added $923 million to the local economy, and led to lifetime earnings of $9.4 billion. He noted the need to fully fund HBCUs and expressed gratitude for the FY20 Labor-HHS appropriations bill that increases HBCU funding. He also expressed support for the FUTURE Act, which extends mandatory funding of HBCU STEM initiatives, currently set to expire in 2019, until 2021.

Alvarez McHatton stressed her institution’s impact on her local, medically-underserved community that lies along the U.S.-Mexico border. While touting the university’s high four-year graduation rates, she noted that graduation is not the only goal, and that they also have initiatives to ensure that their graduates enter viable careers that address community needs. She finished by sharing that HSIs provide Hispanics with the greatest access to higher education; noting that, while HSIs represent 15% of all institutions of higher education, they serve 66% of all Hispanic undergraduates and awarded 56% of all degrees to Hispanic students in 2016.

DuBois began by noting that Virginia’s community colleges were created to fill a role other institutions of higher education would not, noting that the open access nature of community colleges gives everyone a chance and, in some cases, their only chance at higher education. He noted the many needs community colleges fill, from short-term credentials leading directly to employment, to Associate Degrees, to transfer credits for Bachelor degrees. He also noted the varied circumstances of community colleges, pointing out that they are older, poorer, more likely to be first-generation, and attending part-time while also working. He finished his remarks with support for expansion of Pell grant eligibility to short-term programs for high-quality programs offering stackable credentials, citing Pell grants would be “transformative” in providing access to students seeking such opportunities, but for whom even the relatively low cost of these programs is an insurmountable barrier. During questioning, DuBois responded to Rep. Smucker’s request for more detail on his recommendation for Pell grants for short-term programs, suggesting grants be available for programs of at least 150 hours over 6 weeks that can demonstrate completion rates and job placement rates of more than 90%.

Boham highlighted the dual role of TCUs to not only prepare individuals for success, but to strengthen and sustain tribes, communities, lands, languages, and cultures. She highlighted the importance of Tribal Colleges and Universities TCUs in contributing to students’ self-efficacy and sense of who they are, providing them with resiliency to overcome hurdles they encounter not only in college but also later as they enter the workforce.

Woven throughout the hearing, in questions from subcommittee members and in witness remarks and responses, was the importance of providing students from populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education with a sense that they belong in college, and with an expectation of success. Many remarks focused on how HBCUs, HSIs, MSIs, and TCUs provide students with peers, mentors, and role models who look like them, talk like them, and understand their cultural ideals and values, and stressed how this can be an important factor in student success. Relatedly, witnesses pointed out that these populations often require more services to help them to navigate higher education, and to connect them to resources like public benefits, and that those wraparound services are costly.

Finally, several witnesses highlighted the importance of strengthening the Pell Grant program to address affordability for vulnerable student populations.

Wednesday’s hearing was the fourth in a series of five higher education hearings before the subcommittee. The next hearing will focus on innovation in higher education to improve equity and is expected to be held in June.


Publication Date: 5/24/2019

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