Policy Matters

Report calls for tougher standards for poor students in Texas

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Despite concerns it could hurt poor and minority students in El Paso, the state higher education board sent to lawmakers a report that calls for tougher academic standards for low-income students to obtain a college grant.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board unanimously voted to send legislators the report that suggests adding academic merit requirements to the Toward Excellence, Access and Success, or TEXAS, Grant programme. But the board did not give the report its blessing, saying they sent it only because they had to and that more research should be done to determine how increased academic standards would affect poor and minority students.

'We have to make sure we do things that are going to enhance the ability of more minority students to get a greater education,' said El pasoan Robert Wingo, a board member and CEO and president of Sanders/Wingo Advertising.

Lawmakers last year ordered the higher education board to study ways to restructure the Texas student financial aid system. Funding for TEXAS Grants has not kept up with demand.

Ultimately, legislators will be the ones to change any requirements for the programme. Several state senators said the board should push for more money, not fewer grants. Recommendations in the report, they said, would hurt the very students the programme was created to help.

'Making it harder for low-income, minority and first-generation college students to qualify for a grant is not a solution,' state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh wrote in a letter to the board chairman.

Under requirements in the report, Shapleigh said, about 20% of the University of Texas at El Paso students who received TEXAS Grants last year would have been ineligible for the programme.

Currently, students are required only to show financial need and to complete the recommended high-school curriculum.

The report suggested increasing eligibility guidelines to require students to score at least a 1350 on the SAT or to graduate in the top half of their class or to complete the distinguished curriculum in high school.

Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, who grew up in the Segundo Barrio and graduated from El Paso High School, said programmes that reward students based solely on the fact they are poor discourage excellence.

Paredes suggested even higher academic standards. 'Simply being poor is not sufficient when we don't have enough money to go around,' Paredes said.

Last year, about 4,680 El Paso County students received TEXAS Grants, according to the higher education board. Only two other counties in the state had more.

Instead of making requirements tougher, Lopez said, lawmakers should increase funding and make more grants available.'I would much rather see more money,' she said, 'because then I think you advantage more students.'

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