Grad Rate Benchmark Exempts HBCUs

December 5, 2017

A graduation rate requirement for access to special funds for minority-serving institutions in a proposed House Republican rewrite of the Higher Education Act would exempt historically black colleges and universities.

The new metric would require that minority-serving institutions have a 25 percent graduation or transfer rate to qualify for Title III and Title V grants. Should the provision be included in a final law, it would mark the first time Congress attached a performance-based measure to higher ed funding.

But the bill exempts historically black colleges and universities as well as tribal colleges and universities. The requirement would still apply to predominantly black institutions and Hispanic-serving institutions as well as Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian, Native American-serving nontribal, and Asian-American and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander institutions. The distinction is based on historical designations and not students served.

Michael Woeste, a spokesman for the House Education and the Workforce committee, said HBCUs and tribal colleges would not be subject to the new requirement because they are not designated minority-serving institutions by the federal government.

"They are formula-funded institutions that are either defined by when they were established or by law," he said. "They do not have to meet a percentage threshold to be considered an MSI."

Critics of the provision said after the bill was released that applying the graduation benchmark to minority-serving institutions doesn't account for the large numbers of underrepresented students those colleges educate or the additional resources needed to support those students.

Cheryl Smith, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, said the group appreciated the exemption for HBCUs -- in part because the graduation rate metric does not appear to be well thought out.

"We don't think this is the right way to incentivize better performance on completion, and we don't think it's really fair," she said. "We are concerned about accountability measures that are not based on apples-to-apples comparisons between institutions, and we wonder why this requirement is imposed on a subset of minority-serving institutions."

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