Financial aid budgets slashed
Many UH students rely on financial aid to pay for at least part of their education, but with a projected budget shortfall of up to $27 billion, state officials are proposing budget cuts — a large part of which will be coming from education funding.
The Texas House and Senate both aim at a 5 to 10 percent reduction in current spending. In both proposals, 38 to 41 percent of the cuts to achieve this reduction are coming from higher education.
In the current Texas budget, 12 percent of allocated funds are distributed towards education. The proposals will cut an estimated $772 million from Texas colleges and universities.
The House passed its version of the budget late Sunday.
“Eighty thousand kids are not going to get their scholarships and grant money because of this bill,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, was quoted saying in a Houston Chronicle article.
UH Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs John Antel believes state budget cuts are difficult for all state agencies.
“We are not alone,” Antel said. “However, UH has been strategically preparing for this for more than a year. Any cuts are painful, and sometimes they do change the speed in which you go, but you still go.”
UH receives a portion of its funds from the state of Texas, and could lose an estimated $54 to $65 million over the next biennium — a 16 to 20 percent cut in state funds.
If this comes to fruition, students who are graduating from high school with the hopes of attending college on financial aid will have to look elsewhere for funding or drop the idea of a college education all together.
Kinesiology junior Joel John believes that colleges are run like businesses, and that although he would hate to pay more than what he is already paying for college, he has to be realistic.
“All of this puts a big strain on the shoulders of many college students that are already being forced to take out more loans or work more hours to subsidize the cost of higher education,” John said. “It’s hard. I’m constantly worried about paying for my tuition. With financial aid grants dropping, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up.”
Over $1 billion of financial aid is awarded by the state through public universities and community colleges. This number will be cut drastically through either plan.
The House bill includes a cut of $431 million, about 45 percent, while the proposed Senate bill would cut $381 million, about 40 percent.
Because both proposals allow for no new financial aid to be given out, the number of students who receive financial aid through various state programs is estimated to drop from the 86,830 currently receiving aid to 27,135 by 2013.
The state will honor any financial aid already given out or promised to students.
The TEXAS Grant program, which was established in 1999, is the main channel of financial aid funding that will be cut. More than 50 percent of the recipients of this program are minority- and need-based students.
Not only will financial aid not be available to new students next year, but tuition is also estimated to rise by at least 4 percent.
“My parents already take out a lot of money for loans. This is going to make it ten times harder for my family,” said Allison Van Gordon, a pre-pharmacy freshman. “I’m going to be here for a while. I have a lot of school to pay for.”
The proposed budget cuts will also affect community college students. Students who have been attending Houston Community College with the hope of transferring to UH may have to look for other options.
“I have been at HCC studying geology for the past few years and have spoken with my adviser about transferring to UH in the fall,” HCC student Keila Rivera said.
“I guess I always assumed I would be able to apply for financial aid. I am not sure I will be able to afford the tuition without any help. If I can manage to enroll, it will take me at least three more years to graduate because I am going to have to work full-time to pay for my classes in addition to living expenses.”
With an inability to apply for financial aid if need be, the length of time it takes an average student to graduate could be extended. As UH has been on the Tier One track for quite some time, this potential outcome might cause a regression for the University.
“Some people won’t be able to attend college, that would have otherwise, because of cuts to financial aid,” said Scott Imberman, assistant economics professor at UH. “Loss of financial aid could cause problems with our retention rates.”
Former mayor of Houston Bill White believes that in addition to hurting students, these cuts will hurt Texas and the city of Houston in the long run.
“President Obama and business leaders from both parties believe that education, including public higher education, is critical to global competitiveness,” White said.
White noted that the Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness, a task force created by Governor Rick Perry in 2007 at the behest of the Legislature, reported two years ago that Texas was not developing a workforce that could be competitive in the global economy. The commission also noted that the state lagged behind both many states and other nations.
He also noted that a panel appointed by President George W. Bush came to the same conclusion.
“Cuts in higher education will hurt the Texas economy in the long run,” White said.
Imberman agrees that cuts to higher education will have a detrimental effect on the local economy.
“The more educated the work force, the more businesses you can attract,” Imberman said.
The House bill will now go to the Senate for consideration and Antel believes UH is ready to face the challenges the final version will create for the University.
“At the University of Houston we like a challenge, and the significant progress we have already made in our quest for Tier One is indicative of that,” Antel said.