62,000 Eligible Students Didn't Get Financial Help

9-8-05 - A state audit shows that more than 62,000 college students failed to get the financial aid they should have received after tuition rates increased.

The tuition deregulation law passed in 2003 says universities are required to provide more money to students who can't afford tuition and fees.

Tuition increases, ranging from 33 percent to 54 percent during the 2004-05 budget year, seemed reasonable, the audit said. The state audited tuition at University of Houston, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas.

Only Texas Tech University performed a calculation required by law to identify students who qualify as a priority for financial aid, the audit said.

Although some students who qualified for assistance under state law didn't receive it, the report said the universities acted in "good faith" when awarding aid last year.

About $11.4 million of $43 million from tuition funds set aside for financial aid was awarded to 18,244 students even though they were not those declared a priority.

Universities responded to the audit, saying it is impossible to precisely identify the priority students until all financial aid has been awarded. Students made to wait would suffer a hardship, they argued.

"We gave it to students most in need," said Kevin Hegarty, chief financial officer for the University of Texas at Austin. "Certainly we prioritized students, but if we followed whatever definition the state auditors held us to, who have no experience in this area, we would have granted aid for families that make up to $200,000."

The report released Wednesday also said money from the tuition increases at four of the largest universities was spent as promised on new faculty, salary increases and construction projects.