In light of rising college tuition, rising student loan debt, and the middle class economy, Texas congressmen are stirring up controversy over state financial aid requirements. As of now, the state of Texas implements a financial aid program that aids low income students by essentially shifting costs to middle class students and other more well off students. Moving forward, several politicians such as Senator Kel Seliger and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick intend to work towards eliminating this state requirement.
The current program requires colleges to create “set asides” from tuition revenue; tuition set asides are provided to low income students as financial aid in the form of grants (financial aid that requires no repayment). While this sounds like a great plan for low income students, it is apparent that the program hits the middle class especially hard. During 2015, students in Texas who did not qualify for the program found themselves paying an additional $700 on average, totaling $345 million in grants.
On top of burdening the middle class, average Texas college tuition has more than doubled since the fruition of the program in 2003, making it harder on all students regardless of class. With that in mind, the effect of this program comes into serious question. While the intention is to help low income students afford college, the college tuition after fourteen years is more than doubled, leading to heavier burdens on the middle class.
It is for this reason that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is making the elimination of the financial aid program one of his main objectives of 2017. In accordance with this goal, Senator Kel Seliger intends to propose legislation for ending the set aside program.
Both politicians favor giving colleges more control over managing their own tuition money while opting for the increased use of state education grants.
In opposition to set aside program elimination, Texas Higher Ed Commissioner Raymund Paredes claims that cutting the program would bar a significant number of low income students from attending college. If there were to be a program cut, the financial aid would require a replacement plan, hence the Conservative solution of relying of state grants.
While relying on state grants instead of college set asides is a possibility, Democratic Representative Donna Howard was not convinced that the state possessed the financial capability to pull such a policy change off.
In addition to the potential implausibility of relying on state funds, ironically, the elimination of the set aside program may adversely affect some middle class students. According to Tom Melecki, a UT financial aid officer, a program cut would negatively affect middle class students who still “need some kind of financial aid” to help cover tuition.
At any rate, it is clear that this is a classic case of controversy. One side of the issue claims that an existing program is detrimental and wants to implement a new solution. The other side of the issue asserts that the elimination of the program will cause more problems while accusing any replacement programs as unviable.
One thing is certain in Texas. Both the middle and lower class will be affected either way. The lower class may lose some financial aid benefits altogether to be replaced with potentially limited options, or it may keep the same benefits in the face of increasing tuition. The middle class might be required to pay more in state taxes after a program cut, or it may remain accountable for lower class financial aid programs in the face of increasing tuition.