Baylor University officials are urging the Texas Legislature to reverse cuts to a state program that has helped lower-income and first-generation students afford higher education at private schools.
The school’s officials and representatives will lobby for relief during the upcoming legislative session and refocus their efforts on branding Baylor as an affordable private institution by promoting financial aid options.
“Clearly for us at Baylor, it matters because it gives the opportunity for a set of students who might not be able to go to a private institution,” President Linda Livingstone said in an interview.
Baylor’s undergraduate tuition for 2019-2020 school year is $42,842, which does not include the $4,522 student fee and room and board costs. Students with the greatest financial needs may receive up to about $5,000 per year in tuition equalization grants, or TEG, from the state by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA.
Though the grants may represent a modest portion of Baylor’s sticker price, they helped make college more affordable for the 2,514 students who received them last year. And 53 percent of those grant recipients also received federal Pell grants.
In the 2017-2018 school year, 13,713 undergraduate students, or 96 percent of the population, received some sort of financial aid, according to the university.
For the 2017-2018 school year, Baylor’s allocation of TEG from the state was $9.2 million. This year it is $8.8 million, representing a 5 percent decrease. Though the university ultimately receives the money, the funds first go directly to the students.
“That was set up initially to help those students, but also just because of the number of the students we have in Texas,” said state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco. “We didn’t want to build another tier-one or tier-two university, so they thought tuition grants would that way help those kids access a four-year degree.”
In the previous legislative session in 2017, state funding for TEG was reduced by 10.6 percent, dropping from $192.3 million in the 2016-2017 biennium to $171.8 million for the current biennium, according to the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, a nonprofit organization that assists Texas private universities in legislative matters.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has requested a 3.36 percent increase in TEG funds in its legislative appropriations request, which would serve an additional 760 TEG awards in the next biennium.
Though Baylor has received by far the most of the TEG funds allotted to Texas private schools, officials are bracing for the decrease.
Kristopher Ruiz, a senior from Round Rock majoring in political science, said TEG funds were crucial to his ability to attend Baylor. As a member of Baylor Ambassadors, a student organization that lobbies on policy issues, Ruiz has visited the Capitol in defense of the program.
“I don’t want to see a decrease in the allocation of funds over the next couple of years,” said Ruiz, who is now applying to law schools. “When we go to the Capitol, that’s the same message that we say. We would love to manage it and stay where it’s at, rather than just lose the funds for it.”
Scholarships and more
In light of the decrease, Livingstone said the school must redouble its efforts to reach such students and make scholarships and other grants available for them. The average family income of TEG recipients is about $47,188, according to the independent colleges organization. In 2017, almost 60 percent of recipients also received a Pell grant.
Livingstone said the school appeals to parents by communicating that the value of a Baylor degree will be seen after graduation through students’ future careers.
During the last legislative session, one bill authored by an influential lawmaker took dead aim at Baylor’s TEG allotment. State Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican who chaired the Higher Education Committee, wrote a bill calling for private schools accepting $5 million or more in TEG to have open board meetings.
Baylor and the University of the Incarnate Word were the only schools affected. At a contentious hearing for the legislation, senators on the committee grilled then-interim President David Garland over the details of the sexual assault scandal that has embroiled the university. The bill passed favorably out of the committee.
Seliger then amended the bill, raising the bar to $9 million so it would only affect Baylor. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not bring the bill before the full Senate.
A group of deep-pocketed Baylor donors who have publicly criticized the board of regents supported the legislation, saying it would have increased transparency during the tumultuous time. University officials instead pointed to a slate of reforms that included press conferences after board meetings, a steadier flow of information on board actions and new regulations on regent turnover.
It is unclear if Seliger will file similar legislation this session, a spokeswoman in his office said.
“That was totally unfounded and unfair to private universities,” Anderson said of the legislation. “And so we’re against that from the get-go, and it finally died a natural death. … That would’ve been a serious challenge to the very foundation of private schools. To turn over all their documentation to the public level, that would’ve led to public input to policies, if you would, and that would be dangerous precedent.”
Livingstone said the program is a smarter investment for the state. According to the independent colleges organization, the average TEG worth $3,508 saved the state about 48 percent of the estimated taxpayer appropriation of $6,728 for each full-time student attending a state school.
She pointed to the “60x30TX” plan, a goal calling for 60 percent of Texans aged 25-34 to hold a certificate or degree by 2030.
“It’s going to take all of us in the state, public and private, working together, so by providing assistance at the state level for students to participate in private education, particularly in some of these underserved populations, it just really helps the state to have the greatest opportunity to achieve that goal,” she said.