The University of Texas-Pan American President Robert S. Nelsen joined fellow leaders of The University of Texas System institutions in urging Texas state senators to continue providing funding for students and programs.
Nelsen and other UT System presidents testified in front of the Texas Legislature Senate Committee on Finance Feb. 9 about the need for the state to continue providing funds for the Texas Grant and other programs to ensure students can afford to attend and graduate from college.
Both chambers of the Texas Legislature are considering making significant reductions in funding for higher education among other services as they grapple with a projected deficit of at least $15 billion for the 2012-2013 biennium budget.
"The Rio Grande Valley is a magic place," Nelsen said. "The magic in the Valley is education and education is changing that Valley ... the magic in the Valley is going to be diminished if this bill is the final bill."
The legislature is proposing to reduce funding for the Texas Grant program, which helps students who have financial need pay for school. In 2009, the University awarded 2,005 students with money from the Texas Grants. Last year the University awarded $144 million overall in financial aid to students, $55 million of which came from federal Pell grants and $25 million from Texas Grants.
"If Texas Grants are cut more students are going to have to take out loans and that worries me," Nelsen said. "We could lose - if the current proposal goes through - 2,005 students next year. Indeed, because of the budget reductions, we're planning to have fewer students at our University."
Nelsen added that the University's retention rate for Texas Grant recipients is 79.1 percent and its graduation rate is 46.3 percent, both of which are higher than the University's rates for its overall student population.
UTPA students don't rely on Texas Grants alone, Nelsen added. More than 75 percent of the University's students receive financial aid, and of those 44.2 percent must also take out loans to pay for their education. Also, according to Nelsen, 32 percent of UT Pan Am's total student population now rely on loans to stay in school.
Nelsen shared with the state senators about the efforts UTPA has already taken to reduce spending, including $500,000 by using less paper and $1.5 million by using the data center at UT Arlington and virtual servers instead of buying more computer servers.
Nelsen told the committee that the success of the University and its students was because of the Texas Grants. He ended his presentation with a plea.
"The students in the Valley need you," he said.
Nelsen and other UT System leaders will return to Austin next Tuesday, where they are scheduled to testify before the Texas House Appropriations Subcommittee.