Higher education board to focus on poor students during next legislative session

Higher education board to focus on poor students during next legislative session
A statue of Governor Preston Smith greets passersby as they walk near the Administration Building on the Texas Tech campus. (Source: Michael Cantu)

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - As the new Texas legislative session approaches, officials with the Higher Education Coordinating Board are gearing up for funding requests they deem necessary for students across Texas.

But the concentration during this session will be more on economically disadvantaged students – the poor. In Texas public higher education, poor students make up more than half of total enrollment which means there is more need for tutoring, advising, emergency funding and financial aid.

To do this, the board will propose a $107 million increase in funding to the Texas Grant Program. If the money is granted, that would put the total funding for the program at around $900 million.

With that, the board could have more than $9 billion on hand, which would be an 8 percent increase from what it had throughout this last two years.

“We’ve been told by members of the legislature, ‘you should ask for what you need,’” Raymund Paredes, commissioner of higher education for the board, said during a mid-December news conference. “But our approach is, we’ve asked for what we’ve thought we might be able to get. And usually we’ve come very close to that number.”

But an increase in funding students would also, theoretically, decrease the amount of debt students find themselves in after college. The coordinating board released a report in September that found loan aid increased by $209.3 million from 2013 to 2017; though grant aid also increased in this same period by $483.6 million.

The trend in students who need financial help has been a constant for several years now. However, the focus on helping those students continue college has only been a highlight of recent years.

Financial support services, in some cases, are now being looked on and sought out by students to get them through a semester. At Texas Tech there are programs available to students that would provide emergency funding or help in setting up a federal work-study.

“If we can relieve that burden, then they can return their focus to their studies and hopefully complete the term and maintain satisfactory academic performance,” Ethan Logan, associate vice president for enrollment management at Texas Tech said, said. “The best return that we can give a student is completion.”

Around the state, university officials have found temporary financial relief is a must. As emergencies arise, the likelihood of a student dropping out of school increases, mainly because students are not able to overcome a financial burden and get school work done.

These situations are not new to students, but the focus from institutions of higher education is, Logan said.

However, with a new generation of students there is a new built-in awareness of the cost of higher education. Some students know higher education can be a debt-bearing experience, and those who are socially aware are more likely to seek help.

“They’re actually spending more time in our office talking about the more options that they have,” Shannon Crossland, senior director of Compliance & Administration at Texas Tech, said. “And our advisers and our counselors are providing various (types of) outreach.”

Overall, the hope is higher education will be helped by the Texas legislator during this upcoming session. But as the population of poor students entering college increases, there seems to be no end in sight for the help they will need.

As institutions continue to provide aid to those students, the board wants to reward and help those efforts continue, Paredes said. Accommodating those students will be the focus and the board will concentrate on making legislators realize that.

“They need more help, for example, when occasional financial emergencies happen to them and they’re in a situation where if they can’t get a $200-$300-$400 loan, they often think that their only option is to drop out of school and to get a job,” Paredes said. “So, meeting the needs of poor students is the main focus of our legislative agenda.”

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