Texas schools offering inadequate financial aid, list says

Jillian Bliss

The University of Texas did not make a recent list of five schools offering adequate financial aid to low-income students, and neither did any other university in Texas.

According to a study conducted by the Education Trust research group, only five out of 1,186 major universities surveyed offer low-income students the assistance necessary to receive higher education. The study classified students as coming from low-income families if total family income did not exceed $30,000 per year and required individual school tuitions not to exceed $4,600 per year after grants were extended to eligible students.

Colleges also needed to offer Pell Grants to at least 30 percent of students and maintain at least a 50 percent six-year graduation rate to meet the standard. The study included colleges meeting all three requirements on its final list.

UT passed the graduation rate qualification but exceeded the affordability benchmark by about twice the set amount.

Final results of the study recognized California State University’s Fullerton and Long Beach campuses, the City University of New York’s Baruch College and Queens College and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The data used in the study was collected from 2008-2009 academic year reports, and recent national and state budget cuts have further decreased some school funding.

“We’ve enjoyed good support on state grant funding in past years, but like every state we’ve had educational funding hit hard,” said Debra Slade, assistant director of public relations at UNC Greensboro. “Despite the cuts, it is still our goal to make sure every student can receive the aid they are eligible for.”

Jennifer Engle, director of higher education research and policy for Education Trust, said members of the organization were surprised and disheartened by the study’s results. She also believes the nation’s current economic state and individual legislative budget cuts contribute to the study’s results. Engle said additional political motives lie behind several states’ reasoning for offering little financial assistance to college students from low-income families while continuing to offer aid to students classified as “high income”.

“The rational is about trying to keep these students in state,” Engle said. “Those with higher-income families will typically go to an out-of-state university and that results in ‘braindrain’ on the population. These students will typically go out of state regardless of financial aid, but students from low-income families are typically more geographically bound and to invest in them would actually invest more in the state.”

Tom Melecki, director of Student Financial Services at UT, said UT has typically been able to offer a generous amount of grants and scholarships to students during previous years, but is uncertain as to how recent state and federal legislation will continue to facilitate financial aid.

“I think we’ve done a fairly good job of keeping UT open to middle and low-income students in the past, but I’m very concerned about our ability to do so in the future,” Melecki said.