As a freshman from Alamo majoring in Spanish, Villanueva was joyfully relieved his parents would not have to struggle to come up with the money to pay for his college expenses.
“My mom is very happy that I got the grant,” Villanueva said. “Since she doesn’t have to pay for my tuition, now she’s not going to be frustrated and worry about how to get the money.”
Because of the limited funding initially allocated to UTPA, Villanueva was not able to be awarded from the first allocation. Due to the efforts of UTPA’s student financial services staff, he received the news last month that he would be awarded a TEXAS Grant from the recently received funds to cover the cost of his tuition and fees.
The purpose of the TEXAS Grant program, which was created in 1999 and allocated by the Texas Legislature, is to provide a grant to enable well-prepared eligible students to attend public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education in Texas.
The money that helped Villanueva came from an additional $3.2 million of TEXAS Grant funds which were given to UTPA by the state. UTPA is awarded a yearly amount of funds for the TEXAS Grant program – which totaled $12 million for this school year.
However, the initial $12 million allotment was not enough to cover the tuition and fees of every eligible student at UTPA who was in need this year.
A year after the initial funds were dispensed, the colleges and universities who received the money were asked to return the grant funds they did not distribute to students. UTPA submitted a request for some of the surplus money which was to be reallocated. The amount the University requested in the proposal would allow every eligible entering freshman and associate’s degree holder who did not receive TEXAS Grant funds for this school year, due to insufficient funds, to be admitted into the program and receive financial assistance.
UTPA received word about a month ago that approximately $3.2 million was granted to the University from the left over money. Out of a total of approximately $7.1 million of the funds available for reallocation, UTPA received nearly half – the largest award of any of the 36 higher education institutions which were awarded. UTPA staff members credit the large award to their proactive approach in identifying the students, even those who met the requirements of the program, but were denied aid through the program the previous year. Griselda Castilla, assistant director of financial aid, said other universities and colleges have called the University to find out how UTPA was able to obtain such a large portion of the reallocated money.
“Other schools may not have tracked students as well. Also, we know how important financial aid is to our students, so we went to bat for them,” Nancy Smith, UTPA’s TEXAS Grant coordinator, said.
The original $12 million grant only allowed UTPA to use $1.2 million to award 415 entering freshmen, compared to the 842 entering freshmen they were able to aid the year before. The remainder of the funds was allocated for renewal students in the program, as directed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The newly acquired $3.2 million allowed the University to provide assistance to more than 1,900 additional students, thereby enrolling them into the TEXAS Grant program – bringing the total of TEXAS Grant recipients to more than 4,600 for this academic year.
“For a lot of these students who were recently awarded, they had already found a way to pay for school for this semester,” Smith said. “So, students can save the grant money they got and use it toward summer school because there is typically not a lot of financial aid available for summer school.”
Villanueva said the grant will help him pursue his goals of graduating with a degree in Spanish and a minor in French and teaching. He also hopes to one day obtain a master’s.
Smith said one of the most notable aspects of receiving the additional grant funds is that now the students who received aid are enrolled in the program and have the opportunity for continued aid through the TEXAS Grant program.
Once enrolled in the program entering freshmen are eligible to receive the TEXAS Grant for up to 150 credit hours, six years or until they receive their bachelor’s degrees, which ever comes first. Transfer students with associate’s degrees may be awarded for up to 90 credit hours, four years or until they receive their bachelor’s degrees.
“It is also especially important that we were able to enroll these students in the program now since the legislature is talking about phasing out the program by 2011 and reducing the years of eligibility for new entrants for the upcoming year.” Castilla said. “So, if the legislature continues to honor our renewal students, this is the last chance they had to get into the six-year program.”
To qualify for the grant, a student must be a Texas resident; complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and demonstrate financial need; graduate from a public or accredited private high school in Texas no earlier than May 1999; complete the “Recommended,” “Distinguished” or “Advanced” honors high school program; enroll within 16 months of high school graduation; enroll in at least three-fourths time in an undergraduate degree program; and not have been convicted of a felony or crime involving a controlled substance.
The same qualifications apply for transfer students with the exceptions of transferring with an associate’s degree received on or after May 2001; enrolling within 12 months of receiving an associate’s degree; completing at least 75 percent of the hours taken in the prior year; and having a cumulative grade point average in college of at least a 2.5.
For more information about the UTPA TEXAS Grant program, contact Smith at 956/381-2514 or Brenda Garcia, UTPA’s TEXAS Grant coordinator, at 956/292-7298.