Spinning our wheels on student aid

Even as many low- and middle-income students struggle to enroll or stay in college this fall, state administrators are signaling that the under-funded pool of state financial aid won’t get much better any time soon.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has asked the Legislature, when it meets next year, to appropriate $580.8 million for Texas Grants, the state’s main financial aid program for low-income students, over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. Granted, that would be a $21.2 million increase over the current two-year budget period, but it would still fall about $800 million short of providing what is considered full funding for the program, $1.4 billion. And, the $21.2 million increase would come from transferring money from other grant and loan programs – in other words, by shorting other students. The result is inevitable. Some bright Texas high school students will be denied the opportunity to continue their education in the fall following their graduation.

The Texas economy is improving, but the political will of the state leadership in Austin remains stingy toward education, health care and other public services that would keep Texas moving forward. Even as financial aid remains extremely tight, tuition continues to increase at many universities to make up for cuts in university appropriations. And state agencies are under orders to submit hold-the-line appropriations requests to legislative budget-writers.

Meanwhile, the Coordinating Board is nearing a 2015 deadline for its Closing the Gaps program. The goal is 1.6 million in enrollment at all public and private colleges in Texas. Enrollment, according to the Austin American-Statesman story linked below, had reached 1.5 million last fall, but it was very uneven among demographic groups.

Hispanic men had the lowest enrollment rate, 3.8 percent, well below the 5.7 percent goal for each group. That is particularly problematic because this group is one of the fastest growing in Texas and includes a high proportion of young people in need of financial aid.

“We’ve got to keep our foot on the accelerator,” said Coordinating Board Chairman Fred W. Heldenfels IV.

He may think his foot is on the accelerator, but the transmission knob is stuck in “reverse.”



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