Texas could help more poor students afford college if it capped the amount awarded under the TEXAS Grant financial aid program, state lawmakers were told Wednesday.
Unless the Legislature pumps more money into the program in 2013, lawmakers should consider capping financial aid to cover only academic costs, such as tuition, fees and books, said Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes.
Reducing grants would allow the state to spread out the money as Texas braces for more poor students to reach college age.
State figures show that about 60 percent of children enrolled in Texas public schools now qualify as economically disadvantaged, Paredes said.
"The question is do we try to fund a larger number of students or do we fund a relatively small number at generous levels?" Paredes said.
The TEXAS Grant program has spent more than $2 billion helping more than 300,000 students since its inception in 1999. In 2011, lawmakers cut the program's two-year budget from $622 million to $559 million, leaving it able to cover only about 59 percent of the nearly 65,000 eligible students.
To qualify, high school students must graduate from the state's college prep curriculum and not have a felony or drug conviction.
Grants typically are given to students with families who make less than $45,000 and who can contribute no more than $4,000 annually to their children's education.
The program tries to cover a student's total schooling costs, which can include things such as transportation and clothing, along with academic costs, said board spokesman Dominic Chavez. Changing the program to cover only academic costs would reduce the amount some students receive, but would help the state get more students into higher education.
Chavez said the board is already encouraging schools to pursue the "academics only" model in awarding grants, but lawmakers could create a uniform approach by making it state law.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, suggested the proposed change could hurt students who attend colleges in cities where the cost of living is higher, such as Austin, Houston and Dallas.
Other recommendations by the coordinating board would be to cap TEXAS Grant at eight semesters with students required to be enrolled in at least 12 hours of courses.
Committee chairwoman Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, suggested lawmakers should try to put more money into TEXAS Grant.
"If Texas Grants were fully funded, this wouldn't be a problem," Zaffirini said.