In rural south Texas, where unemployment and job opportunity are major issues, U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, has seen first hand the importance of a college education. As the new chair of the House of Representatives' subcommittee on higher education, the six-term lawmaker says he's ready to focus attention on issues facing low-income and minority students.
"The rising costs of college mean that the federal government must step in and help," he says. Hinojosa says he hopes to jump start the process of renewing and strengthening the nation's main postsecondary education statute, the Higher Education Act. Efforts at a comprehensive renewal of HEA have languished in recent years because of partisan differences and funding concerns.
"Properly funding HEA isn't just a goodwill gesture," he says. "Our nation's future is at stake."
Hinojosa says his top priorities as chairman are accessibility and affordability--issues he hopes to support through more funding of core programs. For Pell Grants targeted at needy students, he supports an increase in the maximum grant to $6,000 "as soon as possible." The current top grant is $4,310.
In making a case for more aid, Hinojosa cites the relationship between the cost of education and the cost of prisons. Despite tuition increases, he says, it still costs more to house a prisoner than to educate a student. Hinojosa also is skeptical of arguments that large Pell Grant increases are impractical in the current budget environment. But it will be a challenge, he says, with the "tremendous drain of the costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We realize that affordability issues are the ones that offer the biggest and highest obstacles and we want to address that," he says.
Another passion for the 66-year-old lawmaker is helping Hispanic-serving institutions. In chairing an education task force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Hinojosa fought for increases in the federal government's HSI program. He also helped lead efforts in 1998 to create a separate section of HEA for Hispanic-serving colleges and universities. Since gaining that visibility under Title V of the statute, funding for the federal HSI program has increased from $12 million to $95 million.
"I was probably the one with the biggest megaphone," he says of House efforts to increase support and visibility for the …