The University of Texas-Pan American will help almost 5,000 students pay for their education, pending final approval from the state on awarding TEXAS Grants.
The state is expected to approve allocating approximately $23.2 million to UTPA for the TEXAS (Toward Excellence, Access and Success) Grants for the coming school year, which will allow the University to provide financial aid to about 3,000 returning students and roughly 1,500 new students.
UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen hailed the decision of the Texas Legislature to continue providing TEXAS Grants. During the most recent Legislative session funding for the grants was threatened to be cut under the House's proposed budget.
Nelsen had been a strong proponent of keeping the grants in the state budget and urged lawmakers during Legislative committee meetings to continue providing funding for them.
In April, the Legislature came to a compromise that would provide the grants to about 33,000 students statewide.
"We are extremely fortunate to have received a $23.2 million allocation for TEXAS Grants. This funding represents our future-the future of the students of the Rio Grande Valley and the state's commitment to higher education," Nelsen said. "We are very pleased that the Legislature did the right thing."
This is the largest first allotment the University has received - UTPA usually receives an allotment for the grants in the beginning of the school year and another one toward the end of the school year if other state institutions do not use all of their money for the grants - according to Elaine Rivera, executive director of UTPA's Student Financial Services.
Rivera and other UTPA officials said they are relieved and excited about the news because the Legislature considered not offering the grants for the next biennium (school years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013). Rivera said she and her staff did not include those grants in determining financial aid packages for students because of the possibility of that money not being available.
In order to provide aid to more students, the maximum award for the TEXAS Grant will be $5,000 instead of $7,100, Rivera said. That can still help pay tuition for 12 credit hours for the fall and spring semesters each, she added.
"Now our students don't have to worry about how to pay for tuition and fees," she said.
Previous recipients of the grants said without that money, they would have struggled to pay for school.
The TEXAS Grants allowed Corinne Garza to pay for books and transportation from her home in Pharr to the Edinburg campus.
"The grant helped me each semester from beginning to end," said Garza, a junior majoring in criminal justice. "If I didn't get the TEXAS Grant, I would have to ask for loans. It really does help me get through the semester. By not having that extra money I would struggle a little more."
Garza, who has received TEXAS Grants every semester she has been at UTPA, said the University has increased her award amounts because she has kept up her grades. She started with a $2,700 award and last year she received $3,700.
Thanks to the TEXAS Grants, Tina Marroquin didn't have to fret over how she would pay for her first year of school in the 2010-2011 school year.
Marroquin, now a rising sophomore at UTPA who is majoring in nursing, received a TEXAS Grant for the Spring 2011 semester. If she had not received the grant she would have had to take out $2,000 in loans.
"It (the grant) covered most of my tuition," she said.
Marroquin, who relies on grants and scholarships to pay for her education, said she received a scholarship just for the Fall 2010 semester because she graduated from PSJA High School in the top 10 percent of her class. Were it not for the Texas Grant, she would have had to take out loans to pay for school.
Marroquin, who works at the Student Financial Services' Express Lab helping other students apply for financial aid, said she gives everyone the same advice:
"Try to apply for as many grants and scholarships as you can so you won't have to pay loans."