Low-Income and Minority Serving Institutions:

Department of Education Could Improve Its Monitoring and Assistance

GAO-04-961: Published: Sep 21, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 2004.

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Congress has expanded the number of low-income and minority serving institutions eligible for grants under Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act and nearly doubled funding for these grants in the last 5 years to about $432 million in fiscal year 2004. Institutions eligible for funding under Titles III and V include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Alaska Native Serving Institutions, Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions, and other postsecondary institutions that serve low-income students. Given the recent expansion, we examined these programs to determine (1) how institutions used their Title III and Title V grants and the benefits they received from using these grant funds, (2) what objectives and strategies the Department of Education (Education) has developed for Title III and Title V programs, and (3) to what extent Education monitors and provides assistance to Title III and Title V institutions.

Grantees most commonly reported using Title III and Title V grant funds to strengthen academics, and they reported a wide range of benefits. Most grantees reported using their grants to fund efforts designed to strengthen academics, and we estimate that over three-quarters of the grantees reported initiatives that focused on improving student services (e.g., tutoring) and outcomes for students (e.g., course pass rates). The most commonly reported benefits were related to improvements in academic quality and student services and outcomes. While grantees reported a wide range of benefits, most also reported challenges in implementing their projects that sometimes resulted in the need for additional time at the end of the grant to complete their efforts. Education has developed objectives and strategies designed to strengthen Title III and Title V institutions by improving financial sustainability, technological capacity, academic quality, student services and outcomes, and institutional management. While Education has developed data to determine its progress in four of these areas, it is still in the process of developing data for measuring increased technological capacity. Education has developed plans and tools to enhance its monitoring of and assistance to Title III and Title V grantees, but it has made limited progress in implementing these initiatives. Specifically, Education has not fully implemented its monitoring plan or completed its new electronic monitoring tools, and a new training curriculum to enhance the monitoring skills of staff. We found that only one-quarter of staff conducted two required site visits, and most visits that were conducted were not selected based on the requisite risk criteria. Also, staff were not aware of updated department guidance and, as a result, did not always properly monitor grantees. We also found that Education's ability to provide technical assistance was limited. For example, Education has acknowledged that its failure to provide information on eligibility criteria has resulted in uncertainty about the eligibility of over three-quarters of Title V grantees.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Education implemented an electronic monitoring system in December 2004 to facilitate grant monitoring in the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), and Education reported that all program staff were trained in the use of the tool and were required to use it. Within the electronic monitoring system, each OPE grant was assigned a status code based on the risk of the grantee not fully implementing the project or achieving its objectives. The system allowed individual program staff to track the progress of their grantees, as well as provided managers with a tool to monitor across multiple grants and programs. However, Education reported that because a number of enhancements to the system were needed the system was disabled in Summer 2007, and a new system was deployed in October 2007. While electronic monitoring holds promise for improving monitoring and technical assistance provided to Title III and Title V grantees, the agency still needs to demonstrate how it is using it and other resources to ensure that monitoring and technical assistance plans are being carried out and targeted to at-risk grantees. For example, Education officials acknowledged earlier this year that it did not complete any program oversight visits in fiscal year 2006 for Title III and V grantees, and had not developed an annual plan to guide its fiscal year 2007 monitoring efforts as it had in past years. Regarding technical assistance, Education reports that it held a technical workshop for Title III, Part A, Alaska Native-Native Hawaiian project directors. The Department had planned to assist all Title III and Title V grantees by examining promising practices and sharing findings with all grantees at national meetings of project directors, but could not hold the meetings due to funding constraints.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should take steps to ensure that monitoring and technical assistance plans are carried out and targeted to at-risk grantees and the needs of grantees guide the technical assistance offered. These steps should include completing its automated monitoring tools and training programs to ensure that department staff are adequately prepared to monitor and assist grantees and using appropriately collected feedback from grantees to target assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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