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College administrators discuss benefits of new Higher Education Opportunity Act
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
381-2741
Posted: 10/16/2008
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Key leaders of South Texas colleges and universities joined Congressman Rubén Hinojosa at an Oct. 9 press conference at The University of Texas-Pan American to discuss the key provisions and benefits to the region of the recently enacted Higher Education Opportunity Act (H.R. 4137), which provides greater accessibility and affordability to higher education for the nation’s students.

The legislation, which passed in August 2008 and is the first reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 10 years, contains strategies in place to encourage colleges and universities to restore student loan program integrity and accountability, to require transparency and consumer-friendly information on college tuition, student loans and college textbook costs, to simplify the application process for federal student aid, and to expand financial support for low-income, minority and first-generation students.


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Area higher education leaders gathered Oct. 9 to discuss with U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa the recently passed Higher Education Opportunity Act during a press conference at UTPA. Pictured at the event are left to right Dr. Hector Ochoa, dean of the UTPA College of Education; Dr. Antonio Zavaleta, vice president for External Affairs, The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College; Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president; Hinojosa; Dr. Shirley Reed, South Texas College president; Pat Hobbs, interim president, Texas State Technical College; Dr. Michael Zuniga, director, South Texas Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center; and Ben Reyna, special assistant to the provost for Federal Relations, The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.
“This law will have a significant impact on South Texas by improving the accessibility and affordability of higher education,” said Hinojosa, who chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee and introduced the bill in November 2007 with Education Committee chairman George Miller (CA-7). “It will also strengthen our Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), such as all of the campuses represented here today, by enabling them to serve more students and respond to our nation’s growing needs in high demand fields such as STEM (science, math, engineering and technology), teaching, nursing and other health professions.”

The act will increase the maximum Pell grant, a need-based grant, from $4,731 currently to $8,000 by 2014 and expands the program to accommodate year-round study. It will increase aid and support programs to help returning veterans successfully transition to college life. It also includes a new program to expand master’s and doctoral degree programs at HSIs as well as strengthens programs critical to the Valley in supporting college going and student success, including GEAR UP, TRIO, and the High School Equivalency and College Assistance Migrant Programs.

Success of programs such as UTPA’s annual event Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week was additionally recognized in the legislation by establishing a grant program for Minority Serving Institutions to replicate the HESTEC model across the country to encourage young people, especially minorities to pursue STEM careers.

“It just shows you that perseverance pays off in Washington,” said Hinojosa, who said it was the best piece of legislation he had seen since the G.I. bill enacted after World War II.

Dr. Miguel A. Zuniga, director of the South Texas Center, Texas A&M University Health Center said the law will help prepare professionals needed to meet the nation’s healthcare workforce shortages in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and other health-related areas and Dr. Antonio Zavaleta, vice president for External Affairs at The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College, called the legislation a “dream bill” from the perspective of a higher education leader.

Dean of the UTPA College of Education Dr. Hector Ochoa, who moderated the event, said he particularly appreciated the law’s inclusion of monies to establish Centers of Excellence in Teacher Education in colleges of education to improve the training of future teachers and the faculty training them as well as the provision for fellowships for graduate students pursuing doctorates who might possibly return to the University, as he did, to serve as a faculty member.

UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas praised Hinojosa’s committed leadership and said he recognizes that making South Texas higher education institutions stronger and better and able to serve more kids has a direct impact on the well-being of the whole nation.

“For what you have done for our country, I thank you,” she said, noting his vision and longtime advocacy for advancement of educational opportunities in the region. “You know that the interest of the whole are served when you don’t let a single human being who has the capacity to contribute do so.”

The full text of the bill is available at http://www.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea08/index.html. Hinojosa said technical assistance to apply for competitive funding for programs made available under the act is available from his Congressional office.

Hinojosa along with U. S. Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) will also host a legislative forum titled “Reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act and How It Affects You” at UTPA on Thursday, Oct. 16 from 5:30-7 p.m. Held in cooperation with the Texas Faculty Association, the forum will be held in the College of Education, Room 1.102. For more information on the forum, contact Dr. Espiridion Borrego, associate professor in the Public Administration Program, at 956/381-2544.