Financial aid services prepare for next year’s anticipated cuts

Amy Thornton

The financial aid landscape is changing drastically as the U.S. Congress and Texas Legislature respond to calls for major cuts to government programs. Student Financial Services Director Tom Melecki addressed questions about the UT financial aid awards for the 2011-12 school year.

The Daily Texan: What changes are affecting financial aid for 2011?
Thomas Melecki: There are 12 federal and state programs that so far this year have provided over $100 million to UT students, and there is an estimated $36 million that could be lost. We either already know that those programs are going away or consider seven of those programs to be at risk, meaning that either Congress or the state Leg. may cut funding to those programs. Because of the way those programs are structured, the loss would fall more heavily on freshmen; we could have 71-percent less money for new freshman if we’re not careful.

DT: What federal programs are at risk?
TM: The Federal Pell Grant Program and supplemental grant program could be affected. The largest grant program used by UT students, the Pell Grant Program, provided $48 million to UT students and could be facing a reduction up to $13 million.

DT: What state programs are at risk?
TM: Under the budget bills that are currently pending in the Legislature, every one of the Texas financial aid programs is subject to a significant reduction in the amount of money the state would appropriate to it. Those include the Top-10 Percent Scholarship, the TEXAS Grant program, the B-On-Time Loan program and the Texas Work-Study program.

DT: What about new students?
TM: We’re hoping to begin sending packages out for new students in the next few days because new students need to make enrollment commitments by May 1. The University Budget Council has authorized us to use some university funds to offer to new students in place of the state aid that we cannot offer them. It’s only a limited amount of funding, but it does help cushion the blow for new students.

DT: What is the time frame for offers?
TM: Since the legislative session ends May 30 and the governor has until June 19 to issue line item vetoes, it could be as late as June 20-21 until the Coordinating Board can tell us what we have in terms of financial aid for this coming year. We hope to make the aid offers no later than July 1.

DT: Has the University encountered this before?
TM: This is the largest cut that any of us can remember, and it’s also the most uncertainty that we’ve had to deal with at this point in time. Typically, we’re already getting aid packages out for summer, fall and spring to both new and continuing students. It’s important for currently enrolled students to understand that we’ll have aid for them; the question is what type of aid will we have. We don’t want someone to make plans for summer or fall/spring based on the notion that they get some type of grant and then have to go back and take the grant away from them and offer a loan in its place.