TEXAS Grants to possibly endure reductions and stricter requirements

Lazaro Hernandez

TEXAS Grant, a need-based financial aid program for in-state college students, could face major changes during the upcoming legislative session as a result of recent recommendations made by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The coordinating board, which oversees all public higher education in Texas, proposed lawmakers lower the amount of TEXAS Grant money given to eligible students so it only covers academic costs, which include tuition and fees, but not the entire cost of attendance which includes room and board, among other expenses. The coordinating board predicts the average award amount would drop from the current $5,000 to $3,000.

Tom Melecki, director of Student Financial Services at the University, said lowering the amount of grant money awarded will cause more trouble for students at UT than at other institutions where most students commute from their parent’s home. He said the majority of students at the University aren’t from Austin, which adds to their cost of living.

“If the state’s objective is to make [it so] no student from a really low-income family can afford to come to UT-Austin, dropping the TEXAS Grant down is the surest way to do it,” Melecki said.

The proposal would also make eligibility requirements for the grant more strict, requiring students take at least 12 hours per semester rather than the current nine. The grant’s lifespan would also be changed from the current 150 credit hours to eight regular semesters, a move Melecki said will affect University students in degree programs that take longer than five years to complete. The current 150 credit-hour limit would allow 10 semesters of 15 hours each.

Community college students would also lose eligibility for the grant program, making TEXAS Grants exclusive for university students.

If lawmakers adopt the coordinating board’s proposed changes, because each grant would be smaller and fewer students would be eligible, the number of eligible students who receive TEXAS Grants would increase from 18 to 95 percent, Raymund Paredes, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, said.

Paredes said funding for TEXAS Grants was cut by 10 percent in the last legislative session — the first time since the grant’s establishment in 1999 — and does not expect any increase in funding during the upcoming legislative session.

“We don’t expect there is going to be a lot of money for TEXAS Grants because the budget environment in the legislature is still tight,” he said.

“That is the mindset we created the proposal with.”

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, heard the coordinating board’s proposal at a House Higher Education Committee hearing last month. She said the proposal to decrease financial assistance given to students could prevent a large number of Texans from affording higher education. Instead of lowering award amounts, Howard said the legislation should focus on fully funding the TEXAS Grants program.

“I don’t think it is responsible of the state to have created a program and then be unwilling to fund it,” Howard said. “There might still be room here to have more of a push for increased funding rather than to create this alternative plan with the assumption that there will be no money.”

Printed on Monday, November 5, 2012 as: Grant funds may suffer reductions, stricter rules