For a substantial number of UTSA students who log on to ASAP, the “Tuition and Fee Reminder” is much more than just a friendly note to take out the trash or feed the dog – it is a nagging burden to the anxious students who struggle to afford the cost of higher education.

Students who have taken philosophy may be familiar with Betham’s ethical theory of utilitarianism: “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” With the receding financial aid budget, new regulations proposed by the Texas Legislature plan to adopt a similar sentiment of utility.

This September, lawmakers introduced a plan to reduce the amount of grant money that eligible students receive. The budget cuts are intended to stretch the allotted financial aid in order to reach a greater number of eligible Texas students.

Since its creation in 1999, the Towards Excellence, Access & Success (TEXAS) Grant Program has spent roughly $2 billion on 310,000 students who met the following initial reward qualifications: a Texas resident, who has not been convicted of a felony or crime involving a controlled substance, who shows financial need and have an estimated family contribution (EFC) less than or equal to $4 thousand, according to the Texas Coordinating Higher Education Board.

But with the growing cost of higher education, the need exceeds the means.

“State figures show that about 60 percent of children enrolled in Texas public schools now qualify as economically disadvantaged,”Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner RaymundParades said.

In 2011, the TEXAS grant program was able to cover only about 59 percent of the nearly 65,000 eligible students after lawmakers cut the program’s two-year budget from $622 million to $559 million, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Under the new plan, the amount of financial aid a student may receive will be capped to cover only academic costs, such as tuition, fees and books.

“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.

Unless the Texas Legislature, now facing a budget shortfall of 23 million, can fund the TEXAS grant program, more and more students are left with the burden of the high cost of higher education.

The rising cost of education is increasing at an alarming rate, expressed Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org. Through his financial aid research, he estimates that student debt is growing by nearly $3 thousand a second.  

Furthermore, public universities have raised tuition abruptly because of their own financial problems According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, state and local support for higher education last year was the lowest in 25 years of measurement.

According to Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter, the federal government has offset the state cutbacks by boosting financial aid, However, as she testified to Congress earlier this year, “this path is not fiscally sustainable.”

As state grants fail to cover the financial need of underprivileged, and often minority students seeking higher education, student loans have become a last, and necessary resort to compensate for what the TEXAS program cannot afford.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “Obviously if you have no debt that’s maybe the best situation, but this is not a bad debt to have. In fact, it’s very good debt to have.”

While collection agencies cannot foreclose on an education, the dependence on student loans has become an issue rooted not only in Texas, but also nationally. The combined student loan debt of the nation has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, exceeding even credit card debt, according to policy analyst Leslie Helmcamp.  

Despite the receding means to supplement the cost of attendance, UTSA sends an email notifying its students of its own need-based financial aid program. Each semester, a portion of the tuition fees is set aside to benefit fellow Roadrunners who cannot afford the cost of attendance. University programs like this combat the disparity of anxiety that students face over the burdening price of attendance, while the legislature will continue to fight over the budget.

The Texas Legislature will now join the ethical debate on the age-old issue of utility; it is one of “quality versus quantity.” While grant recipients would receive less money from the state to cover the cost of transportation and clothing, more underprivileged Texas students could afford a degree-something that many will argue cannot be appraised.   

Board officials say that the change in TEXAS grant provisions would have to be passed by the state legislature, which reconvenes in January.

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