Jordan dreamt of being the first in her family to graduate from college. But she never imagined that dream would come at a cost of more than $20,000 in student debt while working two jobs and attending school full time.
Each year, more than 40,000 economically disadvantaged high school seniors enroll in Texas colleges. And while the 2013 Texas Legislature restored support for the state’s major financial aid programs, the 2014-15 state budget does not address the chronic underfunding of need-based grant programs in a growing state for students like Jordan.
As the daughter of a single working mother with three children, Jordan quickly found that financing her college education would be her toughest learning curve. She stumbled her way through the FAFSA application and landed a TEXAS Grant for $6,780 per year. But budget cuts passed by the 2011 Texas Legislature cut Jordan’s aid by $1780—an amount that helped her cover three months’ rent. A slight pay raise at her mother’s job put the family in a different income bracket, decreasing her grant award even more and she was forced to apply for student loans to cover everything from rent to books, tuition, and even food.
“I have two jobs, and commute to school. I’m doing everything I can to live within my means to make ends meet,” said Jordan, a senior economics and urban studies major at The University of Texas at Austin. “But I’m still dependent on student loans.”
Need-based financial aid, including grants and forgivable loans, are critical tools for improving college access and completion, especially for students and families with few resources to pay for college. Unfortunately, need-based grant aid is in short supply, while financing college in the form of loans has become the predominant source of paying for college. With grant award amounts down and too little funding to serve all students with financial need, many students may be faced with too little grant aid to enter and complete college.
Jordan likes to think about the day she’ll graduate, and looks forward to working for a non-profit or in public service. But she doesn’t like to think about the debt she’ll face after college. Yearly decreases in her grant award mean her diploma will come at a high cost—one that promises to burden more and more students at Texas colleges each year.
Read Leslie’s in-depth analysis on what happened to student financial aid funding this session.