Ellis: TEXAS Grant Changes Will Widen the Gaps in College Participation

(AUSTIN)—”Today we passed legislation that will, in my view, widen the gaps in college participation.

“Thanks to the TEXAS Grant Program, college participation is up, degrees awarded — the metric of success — are up and we are actually on-track to meet the Closing the Gaps plan. Since its creation in 1999, more than 310,000 students have received TEXAS Grants, totaling more than $2 billion.

“The program is working to close the gaps: 14.2 percent of TEXAS Grant recipients are African American, 48.3 percent are Hispanic and 29.0 percent are Anglo. The students that have lagged in participation have had the doors to college opened for them thanks in large part to this program.

“Last session, we worked to increase funding for the program by $184 million, bringing the total budget to $614 million over the 2010/11 biennium. This funding provided grants to an estimated 113,000 students, nearly 45,000 more than under the previous budget. Despite this increase, at best 70-75 percent of eligible students actually receive a TEXAS Grant, and the budget under discussion now will all but destroy the program.

“Of course, that was last session and we all know what is about to happen under this budget.

“The number of TEXAS Grants are dramatically slashed, from 86,830 budgeted for 2011 to only 27,135 in 2013 for a 68.7 percent reduction in students served.

“In pure dollar terms, funding for the TEXAS Grant program by 40.5 percent, from $614.2 million in 2010/11 to only $365.7 million for 2012/13. The number of students receiving a TEXAS Grant would be slashed by 69 percent (86,830 in the current FY, only 27,135 in FY 13), and funding would be reduced by 41 percent, from $624 to $361 million.
Budget Year Students Served
2010 69,395
2011 86,830
2012 50,945
2013 27,135

“The issues we keep hearing about ‘rewarding success’ and to spend our financial aid money ‘more wisely’ by instituting new, more stringent eligibility standards for TEXAS Grants. But according to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board data, TEXAS Grant recipients have a graduation and persistence rate above the overall student body average. The same data shows that TEXAS Grant students have a persistence rate nearly equal to students with incomes that are too high to be eligible for financial aid. Funding shortfalls for this need-based program have resulted in the bulk of TEXAS Grant recipients are from lower-income families, are minority students, often graduate from less prestigious high schools, and far more likely to be required to work — often full-time — to pay for the costs of college.

“Yet these students — from families on the early bus — are succeeding now at a very high rate right now, despite the cost challenge. Under the current standards, the vast majority of TEXAS Grant students have either graduated or are on the path to graduation, despite the fact that the costs of going to school — and the burden these students must bear hours they must work to pay for it — continue to rise.

“I believe if that student graduates, it is SUCCESS. I don’t care if it is 6 years or 7 years.

Fall 2003 First Time Full-Time Degree-Seeking Undergraduates
Institution Type Student Type 4-Year Grad Rate 5-Year Grad Rate 6-Year Grad Rate Combined Graduation & Persistence
Public University Non-Financial Aid Recipient 32.4 56.8 64.7 78.9
Public University TEXAS Grant Recipient 22.3 45.4 55.3 73.3
Public University Financial Aid Eligible, Non-TEXAS Grant 18.3 37.2 45.6 65.2
Public University All Public University Students 25.4 47.5 55.9 72.8

“In my view, the two biggest problems facing the TEXAS Grant program are:

1. Not enough students are getting one
2. Tuition deregulation, which has doubled the cost of tuition across the state.

“Tuition deregulation is the main factor behind the rising costs of this program. Tuition deregulation already killed on wildly popular program and has deeply wounded another one, the TEXAS Grant program. And now the budget crisis is ready to strike another mortal blow to TEXAS Grants.

“I am deeply concerned that these three things — tuition deregulation, lack of funds and now new eligibility requirements — will end the TEXAS Grant program as we know it.

“I also have a very serious concern about the double standard we are creating today. Under this legislation, students receiving state-funded financial aid to go to a public college or university will have a different set of eligibility standards than students receiving state-funded financial aid to go to a private college or university. I do not see how this legislature can defend that.

“Under this legislation, a student going to the University of Houston, or Texas Tech or the UT San Antonio or UT Pan Am will have to meet a higher standard to qualify for state financial aid, but the student at Baylor or St. Edwards will have to meet a lower standard to qualify.

“Add this discrepancy to the funding question and we are truly creating a separate financial aid system for public schools versus private schools and I cannot see how that is justified, especially when you consider that we are not meeting our obligations to open the doors to college.
Fall 2009 Students Percent of Students 2009 Total Funding 2009 Percent Funding 2009
Public Two and Four-Year University 1,425,071 92.3% $254,641,464 73.3%*
Private Two and Four Year 118,486 7.6% $118,874,655 27.7%
Total 1,543,557 — $509,282,929 —

“We have been told that instituting these changes will have no impact on the demographic breakdown of this program, and will not negatively impact the Closing the Gaps plan. Passage of this plan will make that the official viewpoint of this body.

“If in two or four or six years from now we see that is not true, that the demographics of the program have significantly changed from what it is today, that more students from families that were already going to make sure their kids got to college are receiving TEXAS Grants and fewer students from families taking the early bus are, I hope you will all join me in repealing these new standards.

“If in two or four or six years we have not seen the dramatic increase in degrees awarded, particularly to those students who are lagging — Hispanic, African American and low-income — I hope you will all join me in repealing these new standards.

“This plan represents a new vision for the TEXAS Grant program. I think it is the wrong step and will widen the gap in college participation, not close it. If I am right, I hope you will all join me in making those changes.”

(Senator Ellis passed legislation in 1999 creating the Texas Grant Program and, as Finance Chair, tripled funding for the program in 2001. Since its creation in 1999, more than 310,000 students have received TEXAS Grants, totaling more than $2 billion.)


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