Grant Oversight Committee Meets at Capitol
AUSTIN--The Texas Grant Oversight Committee met at the State Capitol Thursday, April 6, 2000. The committee is a product of House Bill (HB) 713 and consists of members of both legislative chambers. Members from the Senate include Senators Rodney Ellis of Houston, serving as co chair, Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Steve Ogden of Bryan. Participation from the House of Representatives includes Representative Henry Cuellar of Laredo serving as co-chair, Irma Rangel of Kingsville and Geanie W. Morrison of Victoria.
The committee supervises state grant funds given to institutions of higher education. This hearing began with invited testimony given by representatives of the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB). Those speaking before the committee were Chair Pam Willeford and members Carey Hobbs and Steve Late.
Some institutions in the state have made mistakes in distributing the grants, mistakes such as students receiving less money than they should have and money going to the wrong students. Willeford began her testimony with a description of steps being taken to make sure those mistakes are not repeated.
Regarding the amount of money being distributed, she testified that next year's total will be $38 million dollars. That's an average of about $3,000 per student. This includes funding for four year universities as well as two-year community and technical colleges. The first students chosen to be recipients of the grants are those who receive no help whatsoever from their families and have registered with their school's financial aid offices.
Under questioning by Senator Ellis, HECB members said they had no available information on the ethnicity of grant recipients, but that they would try to get that information to the committee. The senator also wanted to ensure that state funds given as grants supplement, rather than supplant federal funds received for the same purpose. Willeford assured him that this is indeed the case. They are also tracking students who do not keep their grades at the required level once they receive their grants.
Under the Texas Grant Program, one of the most important, recipients receive paid tuition and fees at public or private universities or other institutions. Public university students receive $1,200 dollars per semester, community college students $470 per semester and technical students $700 per semester. Students have to demonstrate financial need and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.
Another important program is Teach for Texas, which tries to alleviate the state's teacher shortage. Representative Henry Cuellar wanted to know why more money was not going to this program. HECB witnesses replied that many students are not aware of the program and that of those who do know about it, few find the program attractive. They speculated that the requirements of the grant could be a factor, since students who receive the scholarship have to commit to five years in the teaching profession. Low salaries, a lack of support and hard conditions in the classrooms make students reluctant to commit for a five year period. Senator Ellis replied that they would look into it, perhaps shortening the requirement.
Sharon Cobb, Assistant Commissioner for Student Services at the HECB, was next to testify. She spoke about the Texas Scholars program, which pays for college tuition and fees for high school students which pass the State Recommended High School Plan. She is a supporter of the program, saying that students who take challenging courses in high school have a greater chance of finishing college. She further testified that today only twenty percent of Texans get a college degree and that to be well prepared for college it is better to get a C in a challenging course than an A in an easy one. But the program can be a hard sell to students who prefer to take easy courses to get the high grades they need to get into the college of their choice.
Officials from individual universities, agencies and school districts then presented testimony and spoke about how they implement different programs. Among this group were:
- Mae Esther Francis, Director of Financial Aid for Texas Southern University
- Dr. Ann Smisko the Associate Commissioner for Curriculum Assessment and Technology at the Texas Education Agency
- Debbie Rodriguez from Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, representing the Texas Counseling Association
- Ricki Price-Baugh, Director of Curriculum for the Houston Independent School District
- Cynthia Monaco, Reagan High School, Northeast ISD in San Antonio
- Jacob Fraire, Assistant Vice Principal for Educational Alliances, Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Program
- Dr. Susan Griffith, Council for South Texas Economic Progress
The committee will meet once again before the 77th Legislature convenes in January of 2001.