Saturday, February 10, 2007

Perry wants tougher academic standards for financial aid students

The state always want to get tougher and tougher on kids. I agree as expressed below that this is get-tough kind of policy does work against the state's general goal of closing the gap (though not against selective admissions which is a direction that some of our leadership wants to take us in). -Angela

Perry wants tougher academic standards for financial aid students
Part of education plan would require repayment if grant recipients don't graduate on time.

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Friday, February 02, 2007

Students would have to meet much tougher academic standards to qualify for state-funded financial aid under a proposed overhaul of higher education spending announced Thursday by Gov. Rick Perry.

What's more, students who do not graduate on time would have to repay their aid.

Those provisions, which would represent major changes in the state's financial aid policies, immediately stirred concern among some legislators, financial aid specialists and college officials, who worry that the college-going prospects of thousands of low-income students could be diminished.

Still, reaction to the governor's proposal was largely upbeat, and many officials described it as perhaps the most ambitious higher education plan put forward by a Texas governor in decades.

"I love the idea, first of all, of focusing more attention on higher education, and of putting more money into higher education and more money into loans and scholarships," said Mike McKinney, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System and a former Perry chief of staff. "I would think nobody could be opposed to those things. The details will get worked out."

Perry wants to boost overall state spending on higher education in the next two years by nearly 8 percent, to $9.8 billion. Financial aid programs would increase by about $363 million, or 60 percent. Public colleges and universities would receive extra funding for each student they graduate.

"I happen to think the success of the State of Texas rests firmly on this legislation and the men and women in this room," Perry said at a news conference in the Capitol, where he was flanked by higher education leaders and several lawmakers. "We are looking at an entirely new way to fund higher education."

For example, three state grant programs for low-income students would be consolidated into a new program called the Tuition Assistance Grant. To qualify, students would need at least a 3.0 grade-point average in high school. They would have to maintain at least a 3.0 in college and meet certain progress requirements to remain eligible.

If they don't graduate within five years for a four-year degree plan or within six years for a five-year plan, they would have to pay the aid back, without interest, except in cases of hardship. It's not clear whether students whose grades slip would have to repay aid.

There is no high school GPA requirement under the grants now in place, and students must maintain a 2.5 average in college to remain eligible.

In the jargon of college financial aid, a grant is widely regarded as money that does not have to be repaid. Robert Black, a spokesman for Perry, said the plan does not misuse the term.

"It's a grant upfront," Black said. "If they don't do what is required, they have to repay it."

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chairwoman of the Education Committee, and Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee — endorsed Perry's proposal.

Two other lawmakers with considerable influence on higher education policy — Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston — praised the governor for making higher education a top priority but expressed concern that more stringent academic requirements and a greater emphasis on loans might harm low-income and minority students.

"Many of these issues were debated at length last session, and there was a consensus in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle that we cannot add more restrictions and rely on more loans if we hope to close the gaps and open the door to college to more Texans," Ellis said in a statement.

Stephen Kinslow, president of Austin Community College, said the 3.0 requirement and repayment provision "may very well present a significant problem, but I don't have enough data to make a firm statement on it. I give the governor high marks and Senator Shapiro and Representative Morrison high marks for making higher education a priority in this term."

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