Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act: Priorities for tribal colleges

Volume 2, No. 3 - Winter 1991
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On October 12, 1990, during the regular fall membership meeting in San Diego, California, the Board of Directors of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) was informed that the Tribally Controlled College Act had just been approved for reauthorization for two years by both the House and the Senate and was being sent to President Bush. This action marked the breaking of a congressional deadlock over Senate riders which had been attached to the bill. It also ended a year and a half of AIHEC debate over the length of authorization for the TCCA bill. The rationale for proposing a simple (no changes except for minor technical amendments) reauthorization of the TCCA for a two year period was, to quote a congressional staff person, “to bring the TCCA into line with the Higher Education Act.” A further explanation was that an alignment of the TCCA with the Higher Education Act would bring tribal colleges more into contact with the mainstream world of higher education.

It was also supposed that such an alignment would make the TCCA “veto proof” should substantial changes (or controversial changes) be proposed for the TCCA in 1992. Exactly what it means to be in-line with the Higher Education Act has yet to be defined. Some conversations have indicated everything from a chartered congressional corporation to being an actual section of the Higher Education Act, or both. These options will be discussed in more detail further in this article.

Present indications are that Congress will begin to consider reauthorization of the Higher Education Act by early spring of this year. This means that tribal colleges (AIHEC) have an immediate agenda regarding three related issues. These issues are: (1) an examination of all sections of the present Higher Education Act and potential positions and/or impacts of changes for AIHEC; (2) potential substantial changes in the Tribal College Act; and (3) the future relationship between the Higher Education Act and the Tribally Controlled Colleges Act.

The purpose of this article is to take an in-depth look at these issues and propose some potential options or positions for AIHEC which make sense given the complexity of the issues. In the interest of brevity, these problems will be discussed as follows: (1) a summary by section of the Higher Education Act; (2) a discussion of the major concerns and potential positions for AIHEC with the Higher Education Act; (3) a discussion of potential changes in the TCCA; and (4) a discussion of potential relationships between TCCA and the Higher Education Act.

The following summary of the Higher Education Act is based upon a paper prepared by the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC). Most of the national attention focused on reauthorization to date has revolved around Title IV, the Student Aid provisions. Following the AACJC summary of each title in the act is a discussion of the major concerns that are relevant to tribal colleges.

The Higher Education Act of 1986

TITLE I: Postsecondary Programs for Nontraditional Students

History/Content: Aimed for most of its history at aiding the improvement of extension programs in higher education, Title I was redrawn in the 1986 amendments to address the purpose of (1) helping colleges relate “resources more closely to the continuing educational training needs of the American workforce,” and (2) strengthening the capacity of the postsecondary institutions to respond to the continuing education needs of adults, especially adults dislocated by technological and economic change, who are seeking entry, reentry or progression in the workforce after prolonged absences. These students frequently are isolated from educational resources by age or geography, are seeking entry into nontraditional occupations, may be receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), are functionally illiterate, or desire to pursue a new career.

Tribal College Concerns: This section of the act has not had any impact on tribal colleges. The portions providing training for functionally illiterate (AFDC) families has been incorporated into the JOBS program which went into effect this year.

TITLE II: Academic Library and Information Technology Enhancement

History/Content: Always a feature of the act, Title II has evolved from a program that focused largely on helping libraries acquire books and other traditional materials and equipment and train personnel, to the current four-part emphasis on networks and information-age technology that help campus libraries share resources and know-how. Among the four parts, only Parts B, C, and D (technology for networking) have been funded this year.

Tribal College Concerns: This section of the Higher Education Act has also not had a great impact on tribal colleges. In the past some colleges have received small grants to acquire books, equipment, and train personnel. That section was not funded last year.

TITLE III: Institutional Aid

History/Content: Originally known as the “developing institutions” program, Title III has made substantial contributions to the improvement of both academic programs and administration in Historically Black Colleges (HBCs), community colleges, and other schools serving large enrollments of low income and minority students. As redrawn in 1986, Part A, now known as the “strengthening institutions” program, is intended to help schools other than the HBCs “to improve (their) academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability … in order to increase their self-sufficiency and strengthen their … contribution to the higher education resource of the Nation.” The 1986 Amendments set a Part A floor of $51.4 million for community colleges. Part A criteria favor colleges with comparatively low “average educational and general expenditures” and high enrollments of minority and “needy students.” Thus, it is not surprising that since 1986 the community colleges have received the majority of Part A grants. Part B of Title III focuses entirely on the HBCs, and Part C supports endowment “challenge” grants to schools receiving grants under both Parts A and B, with a preference for HBCs with meager endowments.

Tribal College Concerns: Title III has been a pivotal section of the Higher Education Act in terms of the origin and development of tribal colleges. In the years before passage of the Tribally Controlled Colleges Act, Title III actually served as the vehicle for starting tribal colleges through Bilateral Relationships with Non-Indian Institutions. Since that time, the majority of tribal colleges have used Title III funds to strengthen their infrastructure. In 1986, the Higher Education Act was reauthorized as described above. Several of the 1986 amendments made specific reference to institutions enrolling Native Americans and other minorities (such as Hispanics and Pacific Islanders).

When the 1986 version of the Higher Education Act was appropriated, four major elements were included which have had an impact on tribal colleges. These were:

  1. Tribal colleges, upon submission of an application, could be considered under the community college set aside, the four year college set aside, and under the set aside for minority institutions.
  1. The Historically Black College section was originally thought to “cover” black institutional concerns. However, it was found that there were many colleges with large black student populations not considered HBCs. A good example is the Los Angeles Community College which has a majority of black students (mostly poor) but is not considered an HBC. However, institutions such as this were considered minority institutions for consideration under the minority institutional set aside. A clause was added that said proposals under the minority set aside would be considered based upon the percentage of minority students at the institution. This means that, for example, colleges with 100 percent minority enrollment receive priority over an institution with 95 percent minority enrollment. In the past couple years, the set aside was given out primarily to Puerto Rican colleges that had 100 percent Puerto Rican enrollment. This meant that tribal colleges, except for United Tribes Technical College and Crownpoint Institute of Technology, were excluded from the minority set aside because tribal colleges had small percentages of non-Indian enrollment. This also meant that some colleges with 100 percent minority enrollment had proposals funded which were ranked lower in quality than proposals from colleges that had a less than 100 percent minority enrollment. This means that tribal colleges, in order to be funded, must compete under the community college set aside or the four year college set aside.
  2. Two tribal colleges, Salish Kootenai College and Northwest Indian College, have competed successfully for Endowment Challenge Grants under Part C. The Endowment Challenge Grants are for colleges which are funded under Part A or Part B of Title III. The grants are a one dollar for one dollar match unless an institution applies for more than one million dollars, then the grant must be matched with one local dollar for every two federal dollars. In the case of Salish Kootenai, the tribe assisted the college with a one million dollar match in order to receive two million from Title III. The obvious problem with this section is that tribal colleges, for the most part, do not have the matching dollars to apply for this part of Title III.
  3. Title III has set up a three tiered method for funding “developing institutions” proposals. The first level is for small planning grants (up to $60,000). The second tier is three year grants which can be applied for more than once as long as a college meets the definition of a developing institution. The third level is a one-time four or five year grant, usually for larger amounts of money, which cannot be applied for again for four or five years. Several tribal colleges are presently receiving the five-year grant.

AIHEC has several major strategies to consider for reauthorization of Title III:

  1. Should tribal colleges seek a specific set aside similar to the Historically Black College Set Aside? If Part D, tribal colleges, were written into the act it might provide a more consistent amount of funds for tribal colleges. However, if this section excluded tribal colleges from applying under Part A and did not receive adequate appropriations levels it might actually reduce the amount of Title III money presently going to tribal colleges. A majority of the colleges have received or are now receiving Title III monies under Part A. A second option might be to put a waiver of the 100 percent minority clause for tribal colleges in the set aside for minority institutions.
  2. Should tribal colleges consider language under Part C which will assist tribal colleges in meeting the requirements for the Endowment Challenge Grants? How should this be related to the endowment section of the TCCA? Can it be related?
  3. Should tribal colleges consider waiver language which would exclude tribal colleges from the holdout requirement for four and five year grants?

These considerations, as in the other titles of the act, require a consideration of the political ramifications involved and a strategy for achieving agreed upon objectives.


Part A — Grants to Students

Subpart 1 — Basic Educational Opportunity Grants (Pell Grants)

History/Content: If the Pell Grant Program were fully funded for FY 1991 (academic year 91-92), both the maximum grant and the allowance for cost of attendance would be $3,100. The Bush budget for FY 1991 proposes holding the maximum and cost allowance at $2,300 for the third year in a row. The law directs the Education Department at the start of each payment period to advance to each school in the program not less than 85 percent of the amount the school shows as needed to cover the eligible students. Although the grants are intended to be the principal impetus to access for the needy students, the steady erosion of their relative purchasing power during the 1980s has made recipients increasingly dependent on loans, work study, and outside employment to meet college costs.

Tribal College Concerns: The 1991 budget actually increased the maximum Pell Grant by $100 to a maximum of $2,400. The concerns of the tribal colleges are similar to those of almost all colleges in the country. The American Association of Community and Junior Colleges lists the following as concerns:

  • Should the Pell Grant become an entitlement?
  • Should the formula become a sliding scale that provides the largest grants to freshmen to minimize their need for taking loans before they have proven their ability to succeed in college?
  • Or, should the formula reward successful students with increased grants each year in order to increase persistence?

Part B—Guaranteed Student Loan Program (Stafford Loans)

History/Content: The soaring cost of federal payments for defaults has aroused both controversy and concern in Congress over the Stafford/GSL Loans. There is little doubt that the default controversy has undercut the popularity of student aid programs in general, since the difference between loans and grants is not well understood by the public.

The intent of the program is to make loans from banks and other lenders available to needy students and their parents to help meet the cost of postsecondary study. The program is administered primarily through state and private, non-profit guaranty agencies which insure the lenders against default. It pays the interest on the loans during the period the borrowers are in college, and it reinsures the state-guaranteed loans. The loans are available to the full spectrum of postsecondary students.

The controversy has been fed by more than mounting default costs alone, now running some $2 billion a year. Since the Stafford/GSL Loan is an entitlement, and the Pell Grant is not, critics view this as subversion by Congress of its own intent to keep Pell Grants the “backbone” of aid policy. In their view, the growing dependence of low-income students on loans to meet college costs, along with the steady decline in the relative buying power of Pell Grants, is a serious threat both to college access for low-income students and to their later economic independence.

Tribal College Concerns: The GSL program has created many problems for tribal colleges that have participated in the program. Tribal colleges have characteristically suffered large default rates on loan repayment. This year congress included Sec. 3004, Ineligibility Based on High Default Rates. Institutions with a 35 percent default rate in 1991 and 30 percent in 1992 will be ineligible to participate in the GSL program. However, a waiver of this provision was inserted, good until July 1,1994, for historically black institutions and tribal colleges.

Although default rates for the institutions are of concern, the loan can create havoc for Indian students who, because of economic conditions on reservations, are unable to repay if they dropout. This also jeopardizes their participation in other areas of Title IV.

Subpart 4 — Special Programs for Students From Disadvantaged Backgrounds

History/Content: This subpart contains the so-called TRIO programs which include Talent Search, Upward Bound, and Student Support Services. It also includes Educational Opportunity Centers. This subpart is competitive and has not been funded at levels equal to the new. Grants are normally for three year periods and priority points are awarded in consideration for prior experience. This means that institutions presently receiving a grant or have received a grant in the past have a priority.

Tribal College Concerns: A few tribal colleges have received TRIO grants. Many tribal colleges have been unsuccessful in applying because of the consideration for prior experience clause and limited appropriation levels. Many non-Indian institutions have written grants aimed at tribal college service population areas (reservations). In some instances this has been done in concert with tribal colleges; in other instances, this has not been in concert with tribal colleges.

TITLE V: Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Development

History/Content: The emphasis of Title V is to help “programs that support teacher training to individuals who are moving to careers in education from other occupations; to promote university partnerships with local education agencies serving at-risk students; and with local labor, business, and professional associations; to provide assistance to our Nation’s teaching force for their continued improvement of their professional skills… (and) to encourage academically qualified students to become teachers.” Part A focuses on “mid-career teacher training” for adults who prefer teaching careers over their previous occupation. Grants under Part B, the School, College and University Partnership, favor low-income communities, year-round partnerships, and programs that serve economically disadvantaged, dropouts, teen parents, and children of migratory farm labor and migratory fishermen.

Tribal College Concerns: There has never been large amounts of money available in this section. Should new language include a section on Indian teacher training? Will appropriations realistically be available to justify lobbying for that type of language?

TITLE VI: International Education Programs

History/Content: The general purposes of Title VI are to aid the development of resources and scholars in international study, international research and foreign language study, and to build American understanding of the cultural, economic, social and political affairs of other countries. Part A supports graduate, undergraduate, and comprehensive language programs and area centers at institutions of higher education. Part B, the Business and International Education Program, promotes linkages between institutions of higher education and the American business community engaged in international economic activity in order both to have the international academic programs and to assist the business community in its capacity to engage in commerce abroad. It also supports the Eulbright-Hays programs, which provide overseas support for international educational activities.

Tribal College Concerns: This section has received little interest from most tribal colleges. Again, an effort could be made to strengthen relationships with Canadian tribal colleges and perhaps Mexican colleges.

TITLE VII: Construction, Reconstruction, and Renovation of Academic Facilities

History/Content: In addition to the support Title VII provides for construction and renovation, it assists schools in the purchase of certain equipment associated with some special facilities. In renewing the program in 1986, Congress added a number of new purposes for which funds could be used, particularly in meeting federal and state standards for disposal, treatment, and storage of hazardous materials and wastes. In the 1986 amendment, Congress made renovation a priority ahead of new construction.

Tribal College Concerns: Tribal colleges have not received monies under this section. The money available for new construction has been on a low interest loan basis. Special language may conflict with the construction authorization in the TCAA.

TITLE VIII: Cooperative Education

History/Content: Authorized first as an institutional aid program under Title III, Cooperative Education was moved to student aid under Title IV of the 1986 amendments and recast into a separate title (Title VIII) with the 1976 HEA amendments. This legislative lineage is evidence of the often misunderstood nature of the cooperative educational model.

Title VIII is a three-way partnership between students, colleges, and employers. In cooperative education programs, students combine periods of classroom study (parallel or concurrent) with periods of off-campus, paid employment in jobs related to their fields of study. Student are exposed to practical workplace application of the theories they have learned in the classroom.

Tribal College Concerns: A few tribal colleges have received Cooperative Education grants. The economic conditions on reservations make the Cooperative Education model difficult at best to implement. Again, perhaps special language aimed at tribal colleges could be developed.

TITLE IX: Graduate Programs

(Because this program is devoted to graduate fellowships and graduate studies, it has not been a focus of general community college concern.)

TITLE X: Postsecondary Improvement Programs

History/Content: Title X centers on two grant programs. Part A supports the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), established in the 1972 HEA amendments. FIPSE’s purpose is to encourage “the reform, innovation, and improvements for postsecondary education, and … equal educational opportunity for all.” Part B, the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Programs, covers both the Minority Science Improvement Program (MISIP), and the Science and Engineering Access Program. The grants from MISIP help “effect long-range improvements in science and engineering education at predominantly minority institutions.”

Tribal College Concerns: Tribal colleges have received continued support from the MISIP program. A few colleges have had FIPSE grants. In the past few years, FIPSE priorities have addressed areas of primary concern to mainstream colleges rather than tribal college needs. Competition for both MISIP and FIPSE grants are continuing to escalate. Should tribal colleges attempt to insert language focused on specific needs?

TITLE XI: Partnership for Economic Development and Urban Community Service

History/Content: In 1980 Congress created Title XI as an urban university grant program, and in 1986 Rep. Terry Bruce, D-IL, was instrumental in bringing community colleges into the program. Part A, Partnerships for Economic Development, promotes the “involvement of postsecondary educational institutions with (local) government, labor, business, industry and community organizations” in economic development initiatives. Part B gives priority to “cooperative arrangements among urban universities, community colleges, and other institutions in higher education.” It defines an urban area as a metropolitan statistical area with a population of not less than 500,000. No part of Title XII has ever been funded.

In summary, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act should command some focus from AIHEC and limited lobbying. For major portions of the act, such as Title IV Student Aid, tribal colleges should probably align themselves with major organizations such as the American Council on Education and the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges. These associations will be representing mainstream positions for all colleges. Although some individuals think that the congressional budget process will return to a “business as usual” mode, it is more than likely that we will be entering a new era in federal spending. Despite the default reduction measures taken last fall, many problems remain that will limit increases in money spent for higher education.

If AIHEC decides to attempt to have special language inserted in the various sections of the HEA, there will have to be careful analysis of the impact that proposed language would have on the AIHEC legislative agenda and on the rest of the higher education community. Although some portions of the Higher Education Act have provided substantial assistance to tribal colleges, the HEA should probably be viewed as a supplemental rather than a primary vehicle for tribal college funding.

The Tribally Controlled Colleges Act will continue to be the primary vehicle for funding for tribal colleges. Reauthorization of the TCCA will take place at the same time as the HEA in 1992 and the major question facing AIHEC is “What substantial changes should be made to the act?”

One potential change that has surfaced over the past several years is devising some type of funding formula which provides a base level of funding to each college with additional funding based upon enrollment. This would allow smaller tribal colleges to maintain essential services and at the same time provide adequate funding to the larger institutions. At this time, this concept has not been fully explored. There may be difficulties gaining congressional acceptance of such formula funding and it may be difficult to articulate such a formula during the appropriations process. There has not been enough analysis to determine if this type of funding formula would really make a substantial difference in the actual amount of money received by smaller institutions. Comparing tribal college funding levels to similar non-Indian colleges would also become more difficult.

The consensus opinion of AIHEC based upon the 1990 summer meeting is that there are few other substantial changes that need to be made to the TCCA. The colleges have always felt that the authority for the act should remain with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It has been felt that the commitment (trust responsibility?) for Indian education would be greater in the BIA and the congressional committees that appropriate money for the BIA than it would be in the Department of Education. There has also been a concern expressed about the excessive amounts of regulation commonly experienced in Department of Education programs such as Title III of the HEA.

The administration of the TCCA by the BIA has been somewhat “rocky,” particularly in the last two or three years. However, technical amendments have been made in the last reauthorization which should make administration of the act an easier process. The old question that arises is “If it is not broken, why fix it?”

This brings up the topic of a proposed congressionally chartered entity to manage the TCCA. Such an entity was created to manage the American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A fundamental difference between the Art Institute and the tribal colleges is that the Art Institute was a federal school serving all tribes before the management was shifted to the congressionally chartered corporation. Tribal colleges are chartered by tribal governments as an expression of tribal governmental sovereignty. This fundamental issue would have to be resolved before tribal colleges would consider such a management option. There would also have to be substantial advantage to such an arrangement before it would be worthy of consideration. At present, this option has not been developed to the point that in-depth analysis can take place. It is also necessary to evaluate how well this arrangement has worked for the American Indian Art Institute.

So, in conclusion, the question remains as to how the TCCA should be related to the Higher Education Act during this coming period of reauthorization. Again, the AIHEC consensus seems to that there are more disadvantages than advantages to becoming an actual title of the HEA. Although such an inclusion would not necessarily mean that appropriations would move through different channels, there have been no clear cut assurances that the process would not move into the HEA appropriations committees. With the 1990 elections, there have also been committee and staff changes that might affect the status quo for the TCCA.

This issue clearly seems to be at the center of the AIHEC agenda for the coming months. Obviously, more information is required before formal positions are adopted. The positions have to be made with open minds and should clearly spell out strategies which will be used to meet accepted AIHEC objectives. This discussion has probably raised more questions than it has answered. As usual, it has indicated that more work and much thought must be undertaken before the path to the future will become clear.

James Shanley is President of Fort Peck Community College in Poplar, Montana.