Potential TEXAS Grant cuts may burden future freshmen

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More than 27,000 pending high school graduates may not be able to get the funding they need to receive higher education in the next biennium because of a proposed cut to the TEXAS Grant budget. The budget proposals from the State House of Representatives and Senate could reduce the amount of funding under the grant by 41 percent from the last biennium. At UT, 4,800 students rely on the TEXAS Grant, including 1,200 freshmen. UT students received $30.9 million in TEXAS Grant funding this year, said Thomas Melecki, director of Student Financial Services at UT. The program will remain open to students who are already receiving the grant and who continue to qualify receiving it, Melecki said. However, no new students would receive funding from the grant starting in fall 2011 if the budget passes, he said. The state currently allots $1 billion for financial aid, but under Senate and House proposals the state could lose $381 or $431 million over the next two years, according to the Legislative Budget Board. Several other state scholarship programs will also face cuts. Work Study will be reduced by 41 percent, and a scholarship program that provides money to students ranking in top-10 percent of their high school class will drop by 79 percent, according to the Austin American-Statesman. This would mean that, as with the TEXAS Grant, entering freshmen would not be able to receive any of the top-10 percent scholarships. “It helps with little things like books, and you need books,” said Middle Eastern Studies senior Siree Allers, who also attended an academic conference with the help of grant money. “I am about to graduate so it won’t affect me much, but it’s definitely a concern for students in the future.” Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, authored a bill that recommends a TEXAS Grant pilot project to increase enrollment at public institutions with under-capacity enrollment. “The idea is to try and balance the student enrollment,” Gallego said. “But there really is no impact if there is no TEXAS Grant program.” Melecki said some students may have to turn to other sources of aid. The Pell Grant is one of the most prominent grants students receive because they don’t have to repay it. But these funds are at risk. As Melecki said, there are serious discussions taking place in Washington to decide whether or not Pell Grant funding should be reduced. If that happens, funding for the grant could be reduced from $50 million to $36.5 million for the next year. “That is not final. No decision has been made in Washington. That is one of the options being discussed in the new Congress,” Melecki said. Still, Melecki said he strongly encourages students to apply by March 31 for financial aid using the FAFSA so that their data can be evaluated for all the funds available. “[UT has] about $100 million in other grants and scholarships that we can offer to students, but by state law that is limited to needy Texas residents,” Melecki said. John H. McCall Jr., associate vice president of the University Development Office, said that the Annual Giving program is raising funds for various schools and departments at UT to “enhance the academic experience for students.” “The funds raised are used for things like scholarships, enabling students to attend conferences and internships, taking advantage of study abroad programs, and enhancing research opportunities,” McCall said. For nonresidents and international students, however, the funds are scarce, Melecki said.