State’s financial aid program to fall well short of need

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The state’s higher education agency approved a legislative appropriations request Thursday that falls far short of meeting the financial aid need in Texas, where more and more college-age students come from low-income families.

Members of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, meeting in Austin, voted 9-0 to ask lawmakers to allocate $580.8 million for Texas Grants, the state’s main aid program.

That would be a $21.2 million increase — by shifting money from other grant and loan programs — over the current two-year budget for Texas Grants. But it’s a far cry from what would be needed to provide full funding for the need-based program: $1.4 billion.

Full funding was last provided in 2004. Although the dollar amount allocated for the program has grown substantially since then, it has not kept pace with the influx of eligible students.

“We would rather give everybody a full ride, but that’s not grounded in reality,” said Dan Weaver, an assistant commissioner of the coordinating board.

The Legislative Budget Board instructed state agencies to submit hold-the-line appropriations requests for the next biennium, 2014-2015, which begins in September 2013. Agencies must also submit proposed budgets with two 5 percent reductions, under which Texas Grants would drop to $547.4 million.

Depending on their need, students at public colleges and universities can receive a Texas Grant of up to $7,400 a year. The coordinating board has asked schools to cap awards at $5,000, to maximize the number of students served. Officials expect about half of eligible incoming freshmen to receive a grant during the current biennium.

In other matters, coordinating board members received an update on Closing the Gaps by 2015, the state’s set of higher-education goals.

Enrollment in public and private institutions of higher learning stood at about 1.5 million last fall, well on track to meet the goal of 1.6 million for 2015. But enrollment is uneven across demographic groups.

Black women had the highest enrollment rate, at 8.7 percent; Hispanic men had the lowest at 3.8 percent. The goal is to have 5.7 percent of each demographic group enrolled in postsecondary education.

“We’ve got three years left,” said Fred W. Heldenfels IV, board chairman. “We’ve got to keep our foot on the accelerator.”

Enrollment of white students dropped by 1.3 percent, or 8,241 students, from fall 2010. Officials said that is probably a result of more students enrolling out of state, in part because they couldn’t get into the University of Texas or Texas A&M University, the state’s two public flagships.

Federal data show that the percentage of college-going Texans who enroll out of state has climbed for 10 years to 13 percent, said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes. That ranks Texas among the 15 states with the lowest so-called out-migration rates.

Contact Ralph K.M. Haurwitz at 445-3604

School numbers

1.5 million: Enrollment in public and private institutions of higher learning last fall

1.6 million: Goal for 2015 enrollment

13 percent: College-going Texans who enroll out of state

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