Board Proposes Major Overhaul of TEXAS Grants Program

UTEP students make their way through campus.
UTEP students make their way through campus.

TEXAS Grants, the state’s primary need-based financial aid program for college students, could get a major retooling next session if lawmakers follow new recommendations by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

In 2011, the Legislature cut funding for TEXAS Grants for the first time in its history and established a model for distributing the awards that favored high-performing students.

According to the coordinating board, with current levels of funding and award amounts, only about 18 percent of eligible students would be able to receive TEXAS Grants. But with some changes they think they could reach more students, a move they hope would encourage more to attend college.

“It’s my personal view — it’s nonscientific, just based on my higher education experience — that we have to be able to fund at least 50 percent of eligible new students to make sure TEXAS Grants is a viable promise to encourage students to go to college,” Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said at a recent House Higher Education Committee hearing.

The changes the coordinating board is proposing to reach that threshold include decreasing the amount of the award so that it covers academic costs, such as tuition, fees, and course materials, but not necessarily the entire cost of attendance, as it currently aims to do. Paredes said the average award amount would drop from about $5,000 to $3,000, which students would likely leverage with federal financial aid.

The requirements would also get a bit stricter. In order to be eligible, students would have to take 12 hours per semester rather than the current nine. The lifespan of the grant would be capped at eight regular semesters rather than at 150 credit hours, as it is currently. 

It would also shift to a program exclusively for university students, with aid for community colleges coming from other sources. Eligibility pathways for transfer students would also be opened up.

With these dramatic shifts, the coordinating board predicts that 95 percent of eligible university students would be served by the program.

“They would get less money than they get now,” Paredes told lawmakers, “but it would still be a significant amount of money that we believe would stimulate college enrollment.”

The discussion around the grant program could get contentious. As state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, noted multiple times last session during debates on the switch to the new priority distribution model, if the program was fully funded, these sorts of changes would not be necessary.

But Paredes said the coordinating board is approaching 2013 with following mindset: “Don’t assume there will be any increases for anything.”

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