SPECIAL ORDER HOUR CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF HBCU EXCELLENCE

December 11, 2017
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding. I also want to thank her for her leadership in organizing this Special Order and for her leadership of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus. 

   HBCUs provide a great value to America, and I am honored to represent a congressional district that is home to two HBCUs: Hampton University, which celebrates its 150th anniversary next year, and Norfolk State University. 

   Since their inception, HBCUs have been the cornerstone of postsecondary education for the African-American community. This was true 150 years ago and remains true today. HBCUs account for no more than 3 percent of all colleges and universities, yet they enroll almost 10 percent of all African-American undergraduate students and produce about 15 percent of all bachelor's degrees earned by African Americans. 

   They also produce 25 percent of African-American STEM graduates and 33 percent of African-American science and engineering Ph.D.'s. Approximately half of all African-American teachers graduated from HBCUs. Many of them choose to teach in high-minority, low-income school districts where they serve as role models for their communities. 

   As ranking member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, I know the prominent role that HBCUs play in our higher education landscape. I believe that strengthening and supporting them must be a key priority as Congress looks ahead to taking action on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. However, it does not appear that the majority shares that belief. 

   The Committee on Education and the Workforce meets tomorrow morning at 10 to mark up H.R. 4508, a partisan rewrite of the Higher Education Act that was drafted in secret, introduced less than 2 weeks ago, and is now being considered in committee without a single hearing on the bill. 

   Mr. Speaker, HBCUs, those who lead them, those who support them, and those who hope their children might one day attend them, should be gravely concerned with H.R. 4508. This is a bad deal for students, a bad deal for schools, and a bad deal for working families. 

   This bill would decimate the Federal student aid for low-income students. It would significantly reduce available aid for grants--that is money that students don't have to pay back, forcing them to borrow more money. It leaves the Pell Grant program as the only remaining grant aid, yet it fails to increase Pell dollars, fails to increase the Pell maximum award to account for inflation, and it expands eligibility to low-quality programs without any Federal oversight. 

   This bill changes the available terms for Federal student loans, making them far less generous than current law, and eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a program that attracts the best and the brightest to forgo higher salaries in exchange for public service. 

   H.R. 4508 caps loan amounts for graduate students and families, pushing them into higher interest, private markets, and even bars graduate students from participating in Federal work study. 

   The Republican bill fails to reauthorize the Perkins Loan Program, a campus-based aid program that allows low-income students to access low-cost loans, and eliminates other forms of campus-based aid. 

   Mr. Speaker, there is no way around it. This is a bad bill. H.R. 4508 will force students to borrow more money, pay more to borrow more, and pay more when they pay that money back. It makes college more expensive at every step of the process, putting college and graduate degrees further out of reach for low-income and minority students. Those are groups that are already underrepresented in our higher education system and served at higher rates by HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. 

   Further, the bill makes no additional investment in minority-serving institutions and other underresourced institutions, institutions that tend to serve communities of color, and eliminates grant programs that support minority students who want to pursue postgraduate degrees. The bill would even incentivize institutions to forgo enrollment of high-risk students. 

   Lastly, the bill prioritizes low- or no-quality workforce training over more advanced credentialing, potentially exacerbating what is on track to become a two-tiered system of higher education: college and graduate school for the wealthy, and direct-to-workforce training for the poor. 

   While not every student seeks to pursue a 4-year degree or even a graduate degree, every student must have that option and opportunity to make that choice. According to the United Negro College Fund: ``We remain deeply concerned that H.R. 4508 falls short of enabling college success for minority and low-income students who can help our country compete and win the global economy.

   On balance, the PROSPER Act would cause minority and low-income students to pay more to earn their college degrees at a time when they should be paying less. In addition, we are concerned that one theme of the bill is to highlight short-term training options, when a 4-year college degree has a substantially greater payoff, in general, with higher lifetime earnings and lower unemployment--and this payoff may be the greatest for minority and low-income students. Further, a significant shortcoming of the bill is it fails to make any new investment in HBCUs which pull above their weight in producing African-American college graduates and, worse, it cuts the current Federal investment in these institutions.'' 

   Mr. Speaker, we want to ask what problem H.R. 4508 is trying to solve. Does the majority think there is too much money to send poor and minority students to college? Does the majority think that there are too many poor students and minority students accessing and completing their college education? Does the majority think that inequality in higher education is solved? 

   Mr. Speaker, as we rise to commemorate 150 years of HBCU excellence, let us remember that we still have a fight to fight. Let us reject H.R. 4508 and fight for a Higher Education Act that not only honors HBCU excellence, but also builds on it through investing in students and working families. 

   Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from North Carolina for organizing this Special Order.