If the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce gets its way, more than two dozen of the country’s lowest-resourced colleges could lose access to money that helps them build capacity and improve outcomes for students.
Last week, the committee released the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, a blueprint for reauthorizing—and essentially rewriting—the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. The bill contains significant giveaways to the higher education industry, particularly private for-profit colleges, at the expense of students. It also proposes that certain colleges show the U.S. Department of Education that at least 25 percent of their students graduate or transfer to another institution within six years of entering school. Those that fail to meet this benchmark would become ineligible for funding under Title III or Title V of the HEA.
Title III and V programs are crucial to supporting low-income students and students of color
Titles III and V house several programs that provide direct grants to public or private nonprofit institutions that enroll a large number of low-income students, a large number of students from an underrepresented minority group, or both. Currently more than 1,700 institutions are eligible for more than $800 million in annual Title III or V funding, which comes from sources such as the Strengthening Institutions Program and the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program. The goals of these programs are to utilize funding to improve college completion rates and support institutional management, student support services, and infrastructure.
Effects of the proposed completion requirement
A review of federal data suggests that approximately 28 institutions would fail the House HEA reauthorization plan’s suggested 25 percent graduation or transfer rate test. These institutions serve a combined 73,000 students. They include 19 four-year private nonprofit institutions and eight community colleges. Fourteen of them serve large numbers of students of color: Five are Hispanic-serving institutions, four are predominantly black institutions, and five more are Asian American- and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions. Notably, these data exclude tribal colleges and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) because the completion or transfer requirement in the bill exempts these types of institutions.
Title III and V institutions rely on federal funding to better serve the students they enroll. If the federal government further shortchanges these colleges when they are most in need of continued funding, it will be harder for them to meet the 25 percent benchmark set forth in the bill. These institutions provide access to the students with the greatest need; limiting their resources could force some institutions to cut down on programs and student services designed to help their students succeed.
There are two states in particular that would be disproportionately affected by this new requirement. Georgia is home to five institutions at risk of failure, all four-year private nonprofit colleges. Four of the institutions at risk of failure, two of which are community colleges, are in North Carolina.
The effects could be even worse
Because this analysis uses eight-year results for completion and transfers, it is possible that the results for colleges not included in the 28 mentioned above would not be sufficient to pass the completion and transfer test at six years. For instance, there are 24 additional institutions serving a total of 149,000 students whose eight-year results fall between 25 percent and 30 percent, meaning that if the bill were to pass, they could also be at risk of losing Title III and V funding in the future.
This estimate is based upon a review of data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the College Scorecard. The former’s outcome measures survey-provided data on the number of first-time, full-time students who completed or transferred out of an institution in eight years. While this is admittedly different from the six-year requirement in the House Higher Ed Act, IPEDS does not contain reliable six-year transfer figures yet. A combination of scorecard data on institutional type and location was used to classify the institutions.
HBCU and tribal effects
Although HBCUs and tribal colleges are exempt from the completion requirement for now, it is important to note that some would be at risk if the measure were to be applied to them. The review of federal data shows that six HBCUs and two tribal colleges had eight-year completion and transfer rates of less than 25 percent. Four of those HBCUs are four-year private nonprofit colleges.
The federal government operates the Title III and V programs to correct for historical underinvestment in institutions that serve the nation’s most vulnerable students. It is critical that institutions be held accountable for their students’ completion outcomes, but doing so only for the most under-resourced colleges is not the solution. And this move should absolutely not be made while giving a greater pass to the for-profit college sector. Congress should seek a fair solution that improves student outcomes across all types of institutions, without penalizing those that need funding the most.
Sara Garcia is a research associate for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress.