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$27 million in unused student grants goes back to state

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Eighteen years ago when your children were born, most likely your top ten list of worries included how you would pay for their college education. There was no Texas Tomorrow Fund or any 529 College Plan. You saved and then prayed that they might qualify for a scholarship. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Middays.

Sorry to tell you that this year Texas universities had to give back grant money to the state that went unused. That's right, as reported in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, Linda K. Wertheimer wrote $27 million worth of unused grant money had to be returned to the state.

A day later, I still find this mind-boggling. That would have meant aid to an additional 11,000 students. In 1999, the state legislature created a student grant program. This grant supports students by covering full tuition and fees for public universities, and some costs for private schools. In the first two years of the program, there wasn't enough money to give to qualified students. So they upped the ante from $100 million last year to $120 million dollars for the 2001-2002 school year.

So why did they have to return over a quarter-million dollars? Not enough qualified students and not enough publicity for the grant program. To academically qualify, high school students have a list of required courses. That shouldn't be too hard, except the list includes chemistry and physics. What's really hard to understand is last year the legislature even raised the restricted family yearly household income qualification from $25,000 to $40,000.

More publicity and lowering the academic requirements are what financial aid officers are asking for. These officers are going to be answering more questions when they go before the Senate Finance Committee explaining this situation.

Oh, and that unused money will be returned to the program. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board told me they expect to use about half of it for summer school. That will be added to the $162 million already allocated for the fall. I trust not a penny will be returned. For KERA Marketplace Middays, I'm Maxine Shapiro.


Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 P.M.