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College financial aid falling short for Texas students

November 24, 2018

The financial aid available to Texas college students is not meeting the need.

That lack of money to pay for college could jeopardize the state’s goal of having at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25 to 34 earn a certificate or degree by 2030.

In 2017, the average gap between the cost of a school year of undergraduate education at a four-year university and the expected family contribution was $6,727, according to the report on student financial aid from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. At the community college level, that gap was $8,258.

Texas ranks well when tuition and fees at state-supported universities and community college here are compared to those in other states. Tuition and fees at Texas public universities average $8,011 a year, placing the state 21st on the list. Community college tuition and fees average $2,017 across the state, making Texas third in that category.

But those national rankings are meaningless if families cannot afford to send their children to college.

The truth is, tuition and fees have been rapidly escalating in Texas. Since the deregulation of tuition in 2003, tuition and fees have been going up 92 percent, in dollars adjusted for inflation, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which also notes that state appropriations have declined by 23 percent over that same period.

Ironically, as the tuition bills have gone up, so has the amount each student is expected to chip in toward a fund designated to assist financially needy students. These “set-aside” funds are mandated by state law and amount to about 15 percent of a Texas public university student’s tuition bill.

Tuition set-aside funds have been viewed as a hidden tax by some and as Robin Hood pricing by others, but attempts to eliminate their collection have not met with much support in Austin because they help thousands of needy and deserving students attend college. In 2017, $428 million in grants and scholarships was awarded to 241,099 students from these funds. We get that, but the state should find a way to provide that assistance without tapping the pockets of those struggling to fund their college education.

As any college student well knows, college costs include more than just tuition and fees. A student’s cost of attendance also includes books, supplies, room and board, transportation and personal expenses.

For a student at a Texas public university, that cost is estimated at $22,578. The cost for students at public two-year institutions is estimated at $13,398.

In the 2017 school year, more than $10 billion was available in federal, institutional, private and state financial aid, and it was not enough. The majority of students in Texas public schools are poor. If they feel priced out of the college market, they are not going to apply for admission.

Texas Education Agency records show that 59 percent of Texas public school students, pre-K through 12, are economically disadvantaged. In 2017, only 52 percent of high school graduates enrolled in higher education institutions immediately after graduation.

Saddling them with debt is not the solution.

Bolstering the amount of financial aid available to Texas college students and keeping tuition rate increases in check are crucial to accomplishing that goal.

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