Fewer college grants, scholarships due to budget cuts

May 31, 2011 4:47:44 PM PDT
Governor Rick Perry praised lawmakers Tuesday for making what he called tough choices to keep Texas living within its means. We look at just one of those tough choices -- big cuts to college financial aid.

We spoke with one of the 30,000 Texas high school seniors graduating and still looking for the cash that was cut.

For years, some of our state's neediest college students relied on Texas grants. Last year, the grant averaged almost $6,000 per student per year of college to more than 100,000 students statewide. But $55 million in budget cuts just enacted make those harder to find now, and take a little excitement out of this week's graduation ceremonies.

Nine years ago, Oscar Ortega walked into a Houston classroom and didn't understand a thing.

"The first day I walked in in third grade, they were talking English and I was like, 'What is this?'" said Ortega.

On Sunday, Ortega will graduate 25th in his Reagan High School class of nearly 400. It probably goes without saying that Ortega has worked very hard to get where he is. He hopes to start at Texas A&M in the fall.

"Wow. I'm really excited," said Ortega. "It's A&M. Howdy! I mean, come on."

His hard work earned him a spot in A&M's incoming class, but acceptance will not be nearly enough to get him to College Station. Ortega told us A&M costs $20,636.

Any other year, Ortega would be close to having it all -- he earned a $1,000 Project Grad scholarship; $5,000 from his high school scholarship program; an A&M Regents Scholarship would've been $5,000 more; a state 10-percent scholarship would've earned him $2,000; and a Texas grant would've been roughly $5,000. That would leave him just $2,636 short.

But the $15 billion worth of budget cuts this year in Austin erased almost all of that, leaving Ortega and thousands of other incoming college freshmen scrambling.

"It scares me because this should be the easy decision -- funding our public schools, funding the Texas grant -- this should be the easy work," said Ann Stiles.

Stiles runs Project Grad -- a Houston non-profit helping at-risk students get through high school and into college. She says, and the state admits, more at-risk first generation students need to go to college in Texas. But funding cuts just approved mean 29,000 fewer freshman will get Texas grants next year than the year before, nearly ending the program for incoming freshmen.

"If the businesses can't find the workforce that exist here in Texas, they'll look elsewhere. We'll lose some of our big business out of our cities and we'll have to import the workers that we need," said Stiles.

High school seniors a week from graduation though may be the most optimistic people on Earth, and Oscar Ortega is no different. He has no idea how he'll pay, and he admits some anger.

"I am shocked," said Ortega.

But he is not giving up.

"I can keep on finding scholarships, maybe a loan. A door closes, but many more open," said Ortega.

He is continuing to look for scholarships, and schools may now be able to restore some money. The budget cuts are actually less than what was orginally proposed at the beginning of the year.


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