Freshmen to receive grants despite reduced state budget

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Nearly 1,100 eligible freshmen at UT may be awarded TEXAS Grants, despite fears that the proposed state budget would not provide funding for any incoming students.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board allocated roughly $21 million to the University for TEXAS Grants, which will serve 3,330 continuing students and more than half of the eligible incoming freshmen, said Tom Melecki, director of student financial services.

“The budget for TEXAS Grant turned out better than we originally thought it would be,” Melecki said.
He said the Texas House of Representatives proposed $366 million for TEXAS Grants last semester, but the Senate’s special session budget bill allots $560 million.

“It would have been a much more dire picture had the house version [remained],” Melecki said.
If the grant is awarded, incoming students would be able to receive money for all four years they attend UT, he said. The Office of Student Financial Services worked last semester to put together a freshmen-only grant for students to prepare for the possible loss, Melecki said. Financial aid packages that come out July 1 will not reflect TEXAS Grant awards but will include freshmen-only grants for eligible incoming students.

“One thing that makes me sad about this is we would have loved to have these budgetary decisions made earlier,” he said. “We could have included TEXAS Grant, therefore offering them a generous financial aid package.”

The total grant amount of $560 million would serve about 77,300 students statewide in the next biennium, said Dominic Chavez, director of external services for the Coordinating Board. He said the original bill had no TEXAS Grant money for incoming freshmen, but with the Senate’s proposal, 30 percent of incoming freshmen are projected to receive the aid.

“We are strongly encouraging institutions to stretch resources to more students by lowering amounts and leveraging other resources to fill the gap,” Chavez said.

Some Texas universities have greater flexibility given their financial resources to award other institutional grants while others might have to rely solely on TEXAS Grants, he said. Generally, the yearly amount suggested for each student is $6,700, but institutions can reduce the amount to $5,000 and award more students by conserving money, Chavez said.

Plan II business junior Chris Nguyen received TEXAS Grant as a freshman and said it helped with little things like buying textbooks and transportation costs.

Nguyen said he was able to participate in extracurricular activities, including working for The Daily Texan, without having to maintain a part-time job to pay for his college expenses because of the grant.