Invest in students’ futures now

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What if the year you were born determined whether you went to college? What if you came of age in a year when state government stopped offering the financial aid you needed? Imagine the closed doors, the job opportunities forever out of reach. For high school students across Texas, this may become a reality. Under the Legislature’s current proposed budget, major financial aid providers such as the TEXAS Grant program will no longer be funded for students who graduate from high school after May 1, 2013.

The TEXAS Grant program, which currently serves 86,830 students statewide, is the centerpiece of the state’s financial aid programs. A study by the Legislative Budget Board found that a TEXAS Grant increases a recipient’s chances of graduating by 45 percent. That’s a graduation predictor equivalent to scoring an additional 350 points on the SAT, according to the board. But for many recipients, the grant’s greatest benefit is the door it opened in the first place: the opportunity to go to college.

“Without my TEXAS Grant, I most likely wouldn’t have been able to attend UT-Austin,” said Philip Wiseman, a grant recipient and Student Government representative. “As a child in a single-parent working family, coming to a tier one institution like UT was never really in the cards for me. Through scholarships like the TEXAS Grant, college became affordable for me. I am now set to graduate in another two years, attend law school and achieve something I otherwise never could have: become the first person in my family to attain a college degree.”

According to a College Board study, Texas is one of the least educated states in the nation; only 27 percent of adults hold a college degree. In a year when the state is searching for revenue, it is important to remember that an educated population can lastingly strengthen the economy. Higher education allows individuals to take higher-paying jobs and pay higher taxes, both of which contribute to state revenue. As students who plan to build lives in Texas point out, their future success will translate into prosperity for the state.

“Scholarship funds are crucial to many students like myself, whose families can’t afford to pay for tuition and housing costs,” said government sophomore Jacob Tynes, another TEXAS Grant recipient. “It’s not like students are asking for free money. In fact, it’s the opposite — students are asking for an opportunity to work hard so they may later serve our nation and state.”

As a current student, Tynes will continue receiving his grant, but he is concerned about future students who share his situation, especially his younger brother.

For the high school classes of 2013 and on, however, there may be hope. Bills authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would require the state to continue the TEXAS Grant program. The legislation would require funding to be used more efficiently. Instead of distributing TEXAS Grants on a first-come, first-serve basis, applicants would be required to demonstrate academic merit as well as financial need. Under Sen. Zaffirini’s bill, new applicants must meet one of three criteria: graduating in the top third of their high school class or with a minimum 3.0 GPA; completion of a rigorous high school curriculum, including dual-credit or AP courses; or completion of an advanced math course beyond Algebra II. According to a study by the Higher Education Coordinating Board, 70 percent of TEXAS Grant recipients currently meet one of these criteria.

If Texas is going to have an educated workforce in the future, it needs to invest in its students’ futures now.