Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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January 26, 2013

College aid faces uphill battle

(Continued)

Students can use Texas Grants to attend any public college or university in the state. The maximum award possible is $7,400 per academic year to cover a student’s total school costs, which can include transportation and clothing, as well as academic cost.

The coordinating board is already encouraging schools to limit grants to academic costs such as tuition and course materials. Writing that approach into law would drop the average award from $5,000 to $3,000. The board also wants to cap awards at eight semesters.

Even without more money, those changes could help thousands more students get some share of Texas Grants, the board says.

Critics warn the proposed changes could hurt students who attend colleges in cities where the cost of living is higher, such as Austin, Houston and Dallas.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who passed the original Texas Grants bill 14 years ago, opposes reducing the award cap, even if it helps get money to more students. The program needs more money, Ellis said.

“It’s not like reducing the amount of the grant does anything to reduce the actual cost of school. Someone would have to make up the difference, either the schools or the student,” Ellis said.

Capping the grant to eight semesters could hurt some students who work and may need more time to graduate, Ellis said.

Zaffirini said lawmakers have been reluctant in the past to make big changes to a program that has been a successful pathway to college for poor and lower-middle income students.

In 2011, lawmakers changed Texas Grants from a first-come, first-served basis to one that gave priority to top academic performers who qualified financially. That change, which will begin with the 2013 fall semester, came after trends showed that about half of Texas Grants students don’t graduate within six years.

“Every time someone recommends a change, it’s very controversial,” Zaffirini said, noting she opposed the priority grants model for years until sponsoring it herself in 2011

“We had to be realistic,” Zaffirini said. “We prioritized to help the students who were most qualified to excel.”

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