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Cutting TEXAS grants

Paying for college keeps getting harder for a lot of people in Texas.

Each year since 2003, the TEXAS grant program has had more applicants than it’s been able to help.

In 2009, lawmakers added $110 million to the program. But with an anticipated shortfall of up to $18 billion in the next two-year budget, total university financial aid could be up for as much as $108 million in cuts.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, author of the legislation that created the TEXAS grant, said such cuts could turn back the clock on the gains the state has made over the past several years.

Under the proposed cuts, two out of every three eligible students who applied would not get the TEXAS grants. During the 2011-12 academic year, 56,000 community college and university students are expected to apply, and there would only be enough money for 18,700.

Most of the money will have to be devoted to maintaining help for students who have already been awarded two- or four-year grants.

“In our struggling economy, the last thing we need to be doing is setting up roadblocks for those seeking to obtain a postsecondary education,” said Ellis, D-Houston.

State Rep. Dan Branch, who chairs the House Higher Education subcommittee, said there are reasons to feel optimistic because of the Legislature’s demonstrated priority for financial aid.

“Ultimately, it’s not only an investment in human capital, it’s an economic development,” said Branch, R-Dallas. “The opportunity to break out and make a higher income ultimately brings in tax revenue.”

He said, however, that in the middle of a tough budget cycle, it’s hard to make promises or think of adding more monies to the program. Lawmakers have said they may limit scholarships to students with better academic records to save money during the upcoming session.

You can talk all you want about how good an investment this is, but if keeping Dan Patrick’s taxes low is a higher priority, then it’s all just talk. We could properly fund the TEXAS grants program, and many other programs, if we wanted to. Budget shortfall or not, we do what we choose to do. Part of the issue with the TEXAS grants is the same as the problem with the Texas Tomorrow Fund, which is that the decision made by the Lege and the Republican leadership in 2003 to deregulate tuition has made college that much more expensive. Whatever we decide to do next year, we’ll be feeling the effects long after that.

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