Ellis Files Legislation To Fully-Fund TEXAS Grants
Father of program says it is time for Texas to keep its promise to students and parents
(AUSTIN) -- Calling the state of financial aid a "looming crisis", Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today filed legislation to fully fund the TEXAS Grants college aid program.
The Ellis plan, SB 1176, would dedicate $897 million for the TEXAS Grant program, and ensure that all 188,000 eligible Texas students receive a grant to go to college. At the current funding level -- $334 million -- nearly 35,000 eligible students did not receive a TEXAS Grant in 2006, and if funding is not significantly increased beginning now, in 2010 nearly 150,000 hard-working, eligible students will be left behind.
"In 1999, we promised Texas students that if they worked hard and followed the rules, we would pay for tuition and fees for them to go to college," said Ellis. "We have broken that promise. This legislation puts Texas back on track, restores the cuts and ensures that the doors to college are open to every eligible student."
To open the doors to college to more young Texans, in 1999 Senator Ellis passed legislation creating the TEXAS Grants program. TEXAS Grants provide tuition and fees to students who have taken the Advanced or Recommended curriculum in high school. By every account, the program has been a runaway success.
In 2000, the first year of the program, nearly 11,000 students received a TEXAS Grant to pay for college; by 2006, 161,000 students had received 327,000 TEXAS Grants to help achieve the dream of college. The program has been the key to increasing minority college participation to meet the goals of the Closing the Gaps initiative. Unfortunately, that success will be short-lived and TEXAS Grants will wither on the vine unless Texas takes dramatic steps today.
"Texas faces a looming crisis: while our diverse, high tech economy relies on a highly-skilled, highly educated workforce, we rank near the bottom in the nation at producing college graduates, particularly African American and Hispanic graduates," said Ellis. "As we become a more heavily minority-majority state, our future literally depends on increasing college access and success for African American and Hispanic Texans. We are simply not doing the job and, unless the state significantly increases investment in TEXAS Grants, more and more students and families will be priced out of a college education, further jeopardizing our social and economic future."
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TEXAS Grants on the Brink
Rising Tuition Costs, Growing Funding Gap Imperils Program
Though funding for TEXAS Grants has increased from $100 million over the 2000-01 biennium, to $334 million for the 2006-07 biennium, availability has recently failed to keep up with demand. Frozen funding and rising tuition costs as a result of tuition deregulation forced over 70,000 students to lose their TEXAS Grant in the last two years and, if nothing is done today, the number of eligible students left behind will soon explode.
In 1999, the number of students taking the Advanced or Recommended curriculum was very limited. In Fall 2004, however, the Recommended curriculum became the standard coursework for Texas high school students, which means, by 2009, the vast majority of graduating seniors will be eligible for a TEXAS Grant. Without a significant funding increase, TEXAS Grants will become an empty promise to young Texans.
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the gap between students eligible and students served will more than double between 2006 and 2010 from 90,000 to 200,000. Unfortunately, the number of students served by the program will actually DECREASE, by 6,000, to 49,000 students. If the current funding pattern continues, 3/4 of the students eligible for the TEXAS Grants program will go un-served. That figure does not even take into account tuition deregulation, which further erodes the buying power of each TEXAS Grant.
Perry Plan Will Close the Door to College, Widen the Gap
Governor Perry's financial aid plan will decimate the TEXAS Grant program, close the door to college for thousands of Texas students, and widen the access/achievement gap. The Perry Plan consolidates the three largest state aid programs, reduces their overall funding, turns them into loans, then penalizes students who do not graduate in five years and with exceptional grades.
Under Perry's plan, TEXAS Grants, Tuition Equalization Grants and Texas Educational Opportunity Grants are combined into one new program -- the Tuition Assistance Grant. The new T.A.G. reduces grant funding from $522 million to $353 million, a 32 percent cut in grant aid. Then, the Perry Plan turns all state financial aid into loans, a very dangerous prospect if Texas wants to close the gaps in minority college participation. That's because virtually every reputable study shows low-income and minority students -- the very students Texas needs to remain competitive in the future -- to be extremely loan averse. These students, with fewer personal resources and less access to other private sources of aid, are far more likely to enter the workforce rather than take on further debt in order to go to college. Furthermore, these students are far more likely to be forced to work -- sometimes more than one job -- in order to pay for college, making mandatory a 3.0 grade point average eligibility requirement almost punitive. Time and again, it has been proven that direct grant aid is the key to getting these students into college and on the path to graduation.
Texas faces far too many higher education challenges to enact a plan which would cost too much and does too little for the majority of Texans looking to go to college.
Falling Further Behind
Texas is already well behind other states in producing college graduates, particularly African American and Hispanic graduates. In fact, Texas lags in the number of students even enrolling in college. Dwindling grant aid and rising tuition continue to worsen the problem. The numbers speak for themselves:
- Texas ranks 41st in the nation in the rate of college enrollment;
- Texas ranks 34th in the percentage with a bachelor's degree or higher, behind states such as California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington, Missouri and South Carolina;
- Only 26 percent of Texans aged 25-65 have earned a bachelor's degree or higher;
- Only 13 percent of Hispanic Texans have earned an Associate's Degree or higher;
- Texas spends, on average, $180 million less on direct grant aid than the other five largest states, California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Unless Texas significantly increases its direct grant aid to students, our state will fall further behind our competitors in producing the graduates needed to fuel the 21st century economy.