Miscalculation means less financial aid for students

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Hundreds of UT undergraduate students did not receive need-based financial aid this fall because of a $3.2 million miscalculation by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said Tom Melecki, director of UT’s student financial services.

The miscalculation affected the state-funded TEXAS Grant, which awarded $2,500 per semester to qualifying UT Austin students this academic year. Melecki said the board double-checked its calculations, found an error and verbally notified the financial services office last week. Melecki said although 644 prospective freshman did not receive the grant because of the error, $3.2 million will be granted to the University for distribution to students.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be able to help some of our freshmen, but we just need a little time to do some analysis,” Melecki said.

Melecki said according to state law, the TEXAS Grant is awarded to first-year students and must continue to be awarded throughout their undergraduate studies. He said his office will try to distribute the rest of the grant funds in early spring, but the time frame also depends on their analysis of how many students the grant can fund throughout their UT careers.

Melecki said $21.8 million went to 4,591 undergraduate students in June to aid them this past semester.

“Those students will continue to receive the TEXAS Grants provided they re-enroll in the spring,” Melecki said.

Melecki said the miscalculation is unfortunate, but the board acknowledged the error and is doing what it can to mend the situation.

The board miscalculated for nine institutions, with the largest error occurring for UT Austin, said Dominic Chavez, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman. Chavez said there was a higher level of uncertainty about funding this year because of state budget reductions.

“We tweaked the methodology so we could stretch those dollars further,” Chavez said.

Chavez said part of the change included a different strategy to calculate grant factors at individual institutions. He said the board underestimated the number of returning students to UT Austin who would qualify for the TEXAS Grant again.

“In financial aid, there’s constant movement that happens,” Chavez said. “It’s not like we calculate it and walk away. We constantly re-calculate it.”

Chavez said the allocation of the grant is up to UT Austin, but in order for students to qualify for the grant, they must receive it during their first academic year in college.

Communication studies junior Shelby Wallace has received the TEXAS Grant since her freshman year.

“If I didn’t have it, I would have to get a loan, so it’s helped a lot,” Wallace said.

Wallace said the students who did not receive the TEXAS Grant this semester may have to take out more student loans than she has had to in order to cover tuition.

“It will affect them later in life financially,” Wallace said.

Printed on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 as: Miscalculation slashes student aid