Saturday, July 21, 2007

Higher Education Gets Sold Down the River

We make jokes about the Texas legislature, famous for such idiocies as the bill to allow blind people to hunt, and such idiosyncrasies as the DeLay redistricting that the former Supreme Court struck down as not providing equal representations to people of all races. The legislature here is part-time and often it is suggested that if it were fulltime, the extra time would just mean more damage.

Our lege has outdone itself this time. It has provided so inadequate funding programs for education that many rising college freshmen, after working for the grades to be admitted to colleges and qualifying for scholarships that would be interest free to entice them to finish in four years, are being informed that there isn't money to fund those scholarships. It was a great idea. Much too great for the Texas political criminals who will throw billions at their friends' businesses, and TXU, but cheat the deserving students.

This week – just a month before heading off to the University of Texas at Austin – Brad Barmer got an unwelcome surprise. That $5,170 interest-free loan he was counting on this year? He won't be getting it.

Instead, Mr. Barmer and some 700 other incoming freshmen at UT – and thousands more college-bound students across the state – won't see a dime from the Texas "B On Time" loan program.

Just this month, the state notified college financial aid offices that the program doesn't have enough money to go around. So new students must go without.

Colleges are now scrambling to tell students, many of whom have already paid admissions deposits and signed apartment leases.

Mr. Barmer said he and his future roommate, who's in the same leaky financial boat, are upset.

"I thought for sure I was going to get the money," he said Friday, recalling the award letter UT sent him in April. "I accepted it."

He doesn't want to take out a different loan. What other loan is interest-free – and totally forgiven if you graduate on time with at least a B average?

Campus financial aid officers say they're offering students other types of loans, and that this setback shouldn't prevent them from going to college. But other loans can charge upwards of 6 or 8 percent, with no forgiveness for good grades and timely graduation.

"Basically, I'm trying to earn $5,000 by the end of the summer. I'm working an insane amount of overtime," said Mr. Barmer, who graduated from South Grand Prairie High School and lives in DeSoto.

$8 million short

The state spent $49 million on B On Time loans in the last school year, enough for 12,800 students. But for the school year about to start, there's only an estimated $41 million, enough for 9,900 students.

So the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in a letter to college financial aid officials last week, said there's no loan money for new students.

And some students who got the loans last year – around 650 – won't get them renewed. State officials haven't figured out which returning students will lose out.

Both UT-Austin and Texas A&M University, the state's two largest campuses, are notifying incoming freshmen who won't be getting the loans as expected. Texas A&M sent a letter out to more than 100 students this week. UT is about to tell its students. Mr. Barmer got an early heads-up from a friend who learned from a
financial aid office.
But financial aid officers have a tricky job. Families typically apply for financial aid by February. Around April, colleges notify students of their expected financial aid packages. In many cases, students pick a college based on the aid it offers.
But the state budget isn't approved until the end of May (every two years).

"The financial aid cycle doesn't mesh with the budget cycle either in Washington or in Austin," said Henry Urick, interim associate director of financial aid at UT.
He said families appreciate the early notice so they can plan.

Either way, the loss of B On Time loans will be challenging for some. Mr. Urick said freshmen and their parents are vulnerable, because for many this is their first experience navigating financial aid and paying tuition.

In so many ways, the freshmen/women and some of the upperclassmen/women are just out of luck because they don't have lots of money to spend on lobbying and other forms of influence. These kids are our future, they will contribute more for every hour of education. But the legislature is interested in pleasing their big money interests, not in building a future for the state. They need to hear a lot of complaints, and be taken to task whenever they appear, for this demonstration of graft and corruption. There isn't much worse they can do for our future than to lose students to higher education.

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Blogger WGG, Rogue Scholar & Tokin Lib'rul said...

i have, as you will recall, ruta mia, long argued that the real purpose--that purpose one may read from the consequences--of USer schools is to ensure that as few as humanly possible students escape the socio-economic niches into which they were born; indee, the schools supply the data which ratify the decisions made a priori, at birth, or even before, which are necessary to regulate the aspirations of the mass.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

The schools give most students the tools they need to make it into a better place. The knowledge and confidence to get into a position to wrestle some of the good life into your own is available. It sure is getting tougher, though, so to some extent I agree with you, Woody. See, it happens.

9:02 AM  

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