Jamie Brown

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is calling on government officials and policy-makers to adjust their college financial aid focus from being institution-centered to student-centered, according to a report released last Wednesday.

Student demographics are changing, the ECS report said, and with a more diverse student population comes a greater need to specialize financial aid packages. 

Sarah Pingel, ECS policy analyst and co-author of the report, said non-traditional college-goers can be overlooked because colleges are primarily working on a schedule the institution set rather than catering toward individual students.

“If I’m an adult student that decides in June that I’d like to pick up a community college class in the fall, I will have already missed that deadline to apply because that deadline is set on a traditional student schedule,” Pingel said.

Many states across the country require students to be enrolled in at least 12 hours of classes to receive a full allotment of financial aid. In Texas, the minimum amount is six hours, but if students want to be eligible to receive state grants, they will have to enroll for at least nine hours of classes.

A lot of the time, non-traditional students go to school part time or operate on a different schedule than that of the university, so more aid could be dispersed for a greater amount of students if the school calendar were to become more flexible, Pingel said.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board oversees and enacts regulations regarding grant eligibility, and the university identifies which students are eligible for certain grants.

If the amount of students in need is greater than the amount allocated to the university, the amount given to each student will be reduced so that each student qualifying for aid can receive some financial assistance, said Jamie Brown, communications coordinator for Student
Financial Services.

“If you have two students, and student A is enrolled in 12 hours, and student B is enrolled in nine hours, and they both meet all other eligibility requirements, they will both get that grant,” Brown said.

Determining eligibility involves several factors, and if one has been out of school for a year, is a transfer student with more than 30 hours or has children, then chances of receiving a Texas grant significantly diminish.

English junior Jordan Wilk said a lot of uncontrollable circumstances prevent people such as herself from being full-time students, and she wishes there were more resources for people who aren’t able to dedicate as much time to school.

“I wish there was a place where you could go where there’s just a whole list of scholarships that are for part-time students,” Wilk said. “As far as I’ve seen, there really isn’t that. You’re on your own.”

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Lawmakers are working to increase the number of off-campus work-study opportunities in the private sector.

On Wednesday, the House Higher Education Committee heard HB 2365, which, if passed, would expand off-campus work-study opportunities for the Texas College Work-Study Program, a state-funded program that offers part-time jobs to students with financial need at private and public institutions.

State schools would offer off-campus programs based on the size of the city in which the institution is located. The bill, authored by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), was left pending in committee.

The Senate gave final approval to a similar bill last Thursday requiring that institutions offer up to 50 percent of their work-study jobs off campus.

The current version of Murphy’s bill would require UT to have at least 25 percent of its work-study options located off campus. Universities in cities with more than a million people would need 50 percent of their opportunities off campus. 

Murphy said the bill would provide work-study students the opportunity to get experience working in their chosen field while still using work-study benefits.

“Employers today, we’re hearing, want to have people with real-world, relevant job experience — even people who just got out of their degree [program],” Murphy said.

UT currently offers some off-campus work-study options. According to the University website, students can participate in federally funded community service work-study programming, which includes tutoring and certain research and administrative opportunities off campus.

Jamie Brown, communications coordinator for the Office of Student Financial Services, said there are no UT students using work-study in the private sector. According to a Center for Public Policy Priorities report Murphy cited in crafting the bill, no institutions in 2014 used the Texas College Work-Study Program in the private sector.

More than 800 students are receiving work-study funds at UT. Of these students, 746 work on campus and 98 work off campus, according to Brown.

Most students at UT choose to work on campus for their work-study, Brown said.

“With on-campus work-study, the student is continuously in the college environment,” Brown said. “They don’t have to concern themselves with leaving campus.”

The University will have to review its work-study program and find new off-campus opportunities if the bill were to pass, according to Brown.

Murphy said he thinks increased off-campus work-study opportunities could save universities and the state money.

When students receive a job under the Texas College Work-Study Program, the state pays portions of the students’ salary. Universities, colleges and nonprofits pay 25 percent of the salary, while private sector employers pay for 50 percent of the cost, according to Murphy.

The state budget allocated about $9.4 million to the Texas College Work-Study Program this year, and universities review eligible students on an annual basis. 

Government senior Bettany Valsin worked two work-study jobs while at UT — one in the University’s financial aid office and another at St. David’s Medical Center. Valsin said she prefers on-campus work-study programs because of the convenience that comes with on-campus work. However, Valsin said having an off-campus work-study job that would benefit one’s major would be worth the inconvenience of traveling off campus.

“I think that if the off-campus work-study position were extremely beneficial, like something that would look really good on any résumé, I would be all for it,“ Valsin said.