At a time when Hispanic Americans are struggling to find their way into higher education, several major national groups have lost their federal support for programs aimed at helping young Latino students prepare for college.
According to the Council for Opportunity in Education, which lobbies on behalf of the federal TRIO programs for low-income students, the U.S. Education Department's just-completed quadrennial competition for funds for the Talent Search program, which provides counseling to encourage economically and educationally disadvantaged students continue on to college, has excluded programs at four Hispanic community groups that serve a total of 17,500 middle and high school students a year.
The groups are the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which has sponsored Talent Search programs for 27 years and has received $3.4 million a year to fund 17 programs in eight states and Puerto Rico; the Aspira Association, the National Council of La Raza, and the National League of Cuban American Community Based Centers.
“We are deeply concerned by the department’s Talent Search grant decisions,” said Arnold L. Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education. “The college-going rate for Hispanic students nationally is already troubling, and the elimination of these effective programs would be a blow to the Hispanic community and to all who care about educational opportunity.”
Officials at the council said they were unsure why the programs had lost their Education Department support, and they stopped short of suggesting that the department had necessarily done anything wrong in rejecting the Hispanic groups' programs.
But Mitchem said the department's grant decisions should be reviewed given “the Bush administration’s previous efforts to eliminate the Talent Search program altogether," and other recent attempts to alter the TRIO programs. Officials of the group said the department had changed its procedures for the Talent Search competition in ways that could hurt smaller and less-savvy applicants.
Education Department officials could not be reached for comment over the weekend. But a department spokesman told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that the applications from LULAC had fallen well short of the threshold score for funding in the department's peer review process. The spokesman, Trey Ditto, told the newspaper that 450 of 753 applicants for Talent Search funds had received money.
LULAC's president, Rosa Rosales, said that its officials were "moving quickly to challenge the process, which was clearly unfair to our centers.”
“This is shocking news to everyone given our great track record over the last three decades," she said.