AUSTIN – Athletics may make West Texas’ private institutions rivals from time to time, but the schools joined forces on Tuesday in Austin to garner support for a valuable financial aid resource.
Students from Wayland Baptist University joined those from Lubbock Christian University, Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons University and McMurry University, also in Abilene, on a trip to the state capitol to visit with legislators about the Tuition Equalization Grant.
The grant provides an average of $2,400 per year to students attending private institutions in Texas based on determined financial need, in an effort to bridge the gap between private and public university tuition rates. For many students, the grant represents a major resource in education funding and allows them to attend a private institution with less need for loans.
Noelia Balderas, a junior secondary education major from Lockney, is one such student.
“I receive a generous amount from the TEG program and without it, I probably wouldn’t be able to receive an education at an independent institution,” Balderas said. “I appreciate the work of our politicians and their support of programs like the TEG.”
Like her counterparts from other schools, Balderas and the Wayland contingency spent part of Tuesday morning visiting with legislators from their areas in Texas. Leigha Messer, a sophomore biology major from Amarillo, spent a few moments with State Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, sharing her appreciation for support of TEG and what it means to her education. Seliger represents Senate district 31, including much of the Texas Panhandle and Amarillo, where Wayland has a satellite campus.
Jeff Vanlandingham, a junior early childhood education major from Childress, visited with State Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, who represents House district 88. A married student with three children, Vanlandingham was able to share with Chisum how the TEG grant was helping him complete his education with minimal loans. Vanlandingham said he enjoyed the visit and learning how the state legislature functions.
“The trip to the capitol was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “I found out that these guys do this work because they genuinely want to help us out, not for the money.”
The whole Wayland group – Vanlandingham, Messer, Balderas and Micah Shuler, junior biology/chemistry major from Azle – spent time visiting with State Rep. Pete Laney of Hale Center, who represents Plainview and the surrounding area. The students urged Laney’s support of TEG, a program Laney said was important to Texas students.
“The TEG really gives you a lot of bang for your buck, and you kids are an important part of this process,” Laney said, adding his thanks for the students’ travels to Austin to share their stories with legislators.
The students were impressed with the visits.
“I enjoyed our visit with Representative Pete Laney. I am encouraged by his appreciation and promotion of higher education,” Balderas said. “I have taken a great interest in politics in recent years and being in the atmosphere of Texas politics was a learning experience.”
“The trip was important in many ways. It gave us a better idea of how our state government works and what it takes to get something accomplished,” said Shuler. “After meeting students from other schools whose education depends heavily on the TEG, I realized the importance of our efforts.”
During the quick 24 hours in Austin, students toured the capitol and sat in on parts of the Senate and House of Representatives morning sessions, introduced by their congressmen. They also met with Carol McDonald, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, for an information session on the TEG and what it means to students, as well as what the legislature has on the table for the grant program.
The TEG was cut for 2005-06 by 14.5 percent and could face additional cuts of around 9 percent in the current legislative session. To receive the TEG, students must be bona fide Texas residents, demonstrate financial need and not be receiving an athletic scholarship or defaulting on a student loan. McDonald explained that TEG actually saves the state money since private school students are not using the $7,000-plus per student allotment by the state.