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Heck Statement: Markup of H.R. 5529, "Accessing Higher Education Opportunities Act"

Like many states, Nevada has a severe doctor shortage. While the number of patients is steadily increasing, there continues to be too few qualified health care providers to meet this growing demand for care. Additionally, while the Hispanic population is growing throughout the country, especially in Nevada, there continues to be a disproportionately low percentage of Hispanic physicians. In fact, according to the National Hispanic Medical Association, while the Hispanic population has increased to 17 percent of our total population, the number of physicians that identify as Hispanic is only five percent.

In an effort to help close this diversity gap and address our nation’s doctor’s shortage, last year I joined with Dr. Ruiz from California to introduce H.R. 2927. That bill allowed Hispanic Serving Institutions to utilize existing grant funds to create programs that support, encourage, and mentor prospective physicians as they navigate the necessary requirements to be accepted into medical school.

Congress originally created the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program in 1992. This program helps promote education opportunities for Hispanic students and allows the institutions serving them to make improvements that increase the quality of the education they offer.

Today, there are more than 400 HSIs across the country, and many other institutions are on the verge of becoming HSIs. In my state, the College of Southern Nevada, UNLV, and Nevada State College, are among many other schools that either are or are on the verge of becoming an HSI. Additionally, the number of young Hispanic undergraduates enrolled full-time at a two- or four-year college has more than tripled in the past 23 years.

It is clear Hispanic students have greater access to education opportunities than they did before the Developing HSIs Program was created. Still, as I mentioned before, the Hispanic population remains underrepresented in various parts of the workforce, particularly in health care.

After meeting with local health care and education leaders in Nevada, and working with the chairman and other members of the committee to address this issue, I am happy to offer H.R. 5529, the Accessing Higher Education Opportunities Act, with Congressman Hinijosa and Dr. Ruiz.

H.R. 5529, expands on the bipartisan work of H.R. 2927 by allowing HSIs to use funds to support students preparing for all health care-related doctoral programs. Additionally, I want to thank Congressman Hinojosa for joining with me and Dr. Ruiz on this bill and adding an important provision that allows HSIs to work with local school districts to start or enhance dual enrollment opportunities and early college programs at high schools.

These programs not only help students get into college, but they also enable students to earn college credits earlier in their academic career. As a strong supporter of dual enrollment programs I want to thank Congressman Hinojosa for strengthening the bill with this important provision.

Ultimately, this bill will help us address a growing doctor’s shortage and close the diversity gap among physicians by helping students at HSIs achieve the dream of higher education.

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