From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 26, 1998
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Senate Committee Supportive of Ellis Plan
to Provide Tuition for High-Performing High School Graduates

Austin (05/26/98) -- The Senate Special Committee on Hopwood, State Contract and Employment Practices today heard testimony that supports a plan by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) to provide free college tuition to high-performing Texas students.

Senator Ellis has announced he will file legislation which would provide state grants to eligible high school graduates who maintain a B-average to help Texas families pay for the cost of college. The program would help boost enrollment at Texas colleges and universities by helping Texas families afford the rising costs of higher education. The program would especially benefit minority families, which make up a disproportionate percentage of families in need of tuition assistance programs.

"In the information economy, education is the key that opens the door to opportunity," said Senator Ellis. "Unless Texas does more to reverse its educational disparities, that door will remain closed for thousands of young Texans. Our scholarship program will not only help families better afford the rising costs of higher education, but will help increase access to education for more minority families who otherwise would not have the opportunity. Implementing this vital program would be a great leap forward for Texas kids."

Senator Ellis' plan is similar to Comptroller John Sharp's Lone Star Scholars program. Both plans are based on a similar program in Georgia which has provided free college tuition for almost 200,000 students since the initiative began in 1993. Last year, Senator Ellis passed legislation from the Senate to create a similar scholarship program, the Texas HOPE Scholarship Program.

Committee members were notified that the rising cost of higher education and the dwindling number of minority students at Texas' flagship institutions could significantly shrink the pool of available graduates in the future. Texas currently produces 14 percent fewer college graduates than the national average.

The Hopwood Committee is investigating the impact a 1996 Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling forcing Texas colleges and universities to dismantle their affirmative action admissions and financial aid programs has had on diversity on Texas campuses. Since the Hopwood decision, minority enrollment at Texas' flagship schools has plummeted. Enrollment by African-American freshman at UT-Austin has fallen 14 percent while at Texas A&M it has slipped by 23 percent.

"Every Texan deserves the chance to earn a college education," Ellis said. "Providing free college tuition will expand hope and opportunity for thousands of hard-working Texas students."