In congressional testimony, President Cruz Rivera shares critical need for increased access to students from historically underserved communities

Dome of Capitol: Committee on Education & Labor meeting

NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera testified Wednesday in front of a House subcommittee about the critically important work that Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and other Minority Serving Institutions do to increase economic mobility and equitable postsecondary educational value and how the United States can better support that work.

Cruz Rivera, himself a product of HSIs, testified in the Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee hearing on “Investing in Economic Mobility: The Important Role of Hispanic Serving Institutions and Other Minority Serving Institutions.” He advocated for increased investments in HSIs— because of who these institutions serve, how well they serve them, and the individual and collective benefits these investments can generate for the people of the United States of America.

The necessity of investing in HSIs is clear from attainment gaps throughout the U.S., Cruz Rivera noted, with students from high-income families approximately five times as likely as students from low-income families to obtain a bachelor’s degree by age 24. In addition, attainment gaps are amplified across demographic categories, because while only 40 out of every 100 white kindergartners are expected to get a bachelor’s degree in their lifetime, that number drops by half for Black children and one-third for Latino and Native American children.

A key reason for this, he shared, is the financial burden of college attendance. On average, low-income students must finance an amount equivalent to 76 percent of their family’s annual income to attend a public university for one year, even after accounting for all grant aid, which is a far higher burden than the 17 percent figure required for the highest-income students.

“One reason for this gap in college-going—a factor that also manifests itself in gaps in college completion—is that to this day, we as a country give students from historically underserved communities less of all the things they need: less access to effective, in-field, experienced teachers, less access to a college or career-ready curriculum, less access to advanced course work, and less funding to achieve these necessary investments for support and success,” Cruz Rivera said.

He offered five policy recommendations to equip HSIs and other Minority Serving Institutions to better serve their students and the communities they represent:

  1. Align financial aid with the needs of the increasingly diverse students attending HSIs.
    • Double Pell grants.
  1. Maximize impact by increasing per student investments in HSIs, HBCUs and other MSIs.
    • Invest equitably in the future of all who choose to reach higher.
  1. Incentivize the use of evidence-based practices to improve student outcomes at HSIs.
    • We know what works; we just need the funding to make it happen.
  1. Bolster the physical, virtual and research infrastructure at HSIs.
    • All students deserve a safe and modern environment conducive to learning.
  1. Improve data transparency and invest in P-12 teachers.
    • We need data to identify opportunities and hold ourselves accountable.
    • We need strong P-12 teachers to cultivate postsecondary aspirations in students and produce college-ready graduates.

“We can and must do a better job of translating our democratic ideals into policies and practices that sustain opportunity,” Cruz Rivera said. “Together, we can make equitable postsecondary value an accessible and achievable outcome and propel more low-income, first-generation students and students of color to the middle-class and beyond. Support for HSIs will pave the way for less inequality, more social mobility and broader economic prosperity in America.”

He closed by noting that NAU, a recently designated HSI that serves as an engine of opportunity for students in Arizona and beyond through its strategic commitment to equitable postsecondary value, welcomes the opportunity to work with federal lawmakers and other institutions and policymakers across the country “to ensure that our higher education system works for all who aspire to meet their full potential.”

Watch the full hearing online.

Read President Cruz Rivera’s testimony.

NAU Communications