TEXAS Grants funds limited despite growing statewide enrollment

Joshua Fechter

Texas lawmakers are grappling with how to properly fund a state financial aid program that benefits thousands of UT students.

Current funding proposals to the TEXAS Grant Program, which supplies financial assistance to low-income students, remain unchanged from the previous legislative session despite enrollment growth.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he will co-chair a working group of the Senate Finance Committee focused on higher education funding that will examine how the state should fund the program. He said he hopes to allocate more funds to the program.

“It’s money that is very, very well spent, and the state gets a lot out of it,” Seliger said.

Math sophomore Daniela Benitez said she may have attended UT-Permian Basin instead of UT-Austin had she not received the grant. 

“Without that grant, I wouldn’t have that opportunity to become what I really want to be,” Benitez, who plans to transfer into the Cockrell School of Engineering, said.

The House and Senate budget proposals allocate $555.5 million for the upcoming biennium, which is the same funding level as the previous legislative session.

Texas public universities enrolled 577,000 students in fall 2012, which is an increase almost 20 percent of the total students from fall 2005, according to a report published by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The board projects that statewide enrollment will grow to 600,000 students by 2015 and 630,000 by 2020.

Thomas Melecki, director of the Office of Student Financial Services, said flat funding for the program while enrollment grows results in fewer funds to award new grants to incoming freshmen.

The program’s rules state that if appropriations to the program are not enough to allow awards to all eligible students, continuation awards, or awards to students who already receive the grant, must take priority.

Melecki said the University offered grants to about 1,600 freshmen last academic year. This year, that decreased to less than 1,400 freshmen, which was less than half of admitted freshmen who were eligible for the grant, Melecki said.

“That’s where we run into problems,” Melecki said.

Students eligible for an initial award must have an expected family contribution to their cost of attendance of $4,000 or less. To stay eligible for subsequent awards, students must maintain a GPA of 2.5 and complete 24 credit hours per academic year.

The Legislature allocated $50.7 million to 8,449 students at UT eligible for the grant during the 2012-13 biennium, according to information provided by the Office of Student Financial Services. During the 2010-11 biennium, 7,653 UT students received grants out of the $59.4 million allocated by the Legislature to the University.

Math freshman Luis Anaya said he planned to attend the engineering school at UT-San Antonio before he received the grant, which swayed him to attend UT-Austin and transfer into the engineering program.

“[The engineering program at UTSA] is on the rise but I feel like UT already had an established prestige and it’s a lot more competitive here, so I know that if I get a degree here, I know that I had to earn it and work for it,” Anaya said.

Published on February 11, 2013 as "Lawmakers pondering financial aid funding".