US Senate hearing highlights historic black colleges

Posted by Renee Schoof on May 13, 2014 

Fayetteville State University’s MILE program – Male Initiative on Leadership and Excellence – has helped encourage African-American men to stay in college, the school’s assistant vice chancellor of student retention, Jason DeSousa, said at a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington on Tuesday.

The hearing of the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee examined best practices that strengthen minority-serving institutions, which include historically black colleges and universities and schools that have large numbers of Native Americans, Latinos or Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander students. Sen. Kay Hagan, a member of the committee, chaired the hearing.

DeSousa said the MILE program included trips outside North Carolina that helped students see themselves in a broader range of job opportunities. In his testimony, he cited it as one of a number of programs at the university aimed at helping students who need support.

Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem who also serves on the committee, said at the hearing that data show that programs such as those at FSU were helping improve retention rates and raise grades.

Hagan, a Democrat, said she would introduce legislation to set up a competitive grant program for HBCUs that would encourage the expansion of programs such as the MILE. She said schools would be selected on the basis of whether they worked with local high schools to help prepare students; offered programs with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math; promoted entrepreneurship and research; and took steps to increase the numbers of African-American college students who graduate.

“If you look at the studies and the research, we are missing out on bringing in African American males into the degree process,” Hagan said.

Schools would be required to match 15 percent of the funding.

The bill would authorize federal spending, but not set a required amount. Hagan said schools would have to show they were meeting goals at the end of their third year of receiving the grants in order to get funding for an additional two years.

North Carolina has 10 accredited HBCUs. The historically black institutions nationwide represent 3 percent of all colleges and universities but enroll 10 percent of African-American undergraduates and confer 19 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-American students, said Michael Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF (United Negro College Fund).

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