In the Texas Panhandle, self-reliance, a sense of control for personal destiny and a commitment to hard work governs and guides. There is an abiding belief that this cord of three strands is strong and presents the opportunity for a good life in a better world. Increasing costs of education are a barricade to students in attaining aspirations. Accessibility should exist for all who are willing to work and apply themselves, regardless of family income, ethnicity, national origin, physical or intellectual disability, view of the world, or any other individual perspective, peculiarity, or predisposition. Such opportunity cannot be an entitlement. Entitlement is not an opportunity but a vice. West Texas A&M University is unique in many ways, but like most universities, support for students who truly want to study is available.
Merit scholarships support applicants who have demonstrated academic capability through previous accomplishments, approximately 58% of all college students. Strong academic performance in high school evidenced by class rank, grade point average, courses taken to prepare for college and standardized test scores is instrumental. Standardized test scores are increasingly under fire for being biased and fundamentally unfair. Any measure in isolation is unfair. There are four corners of the admissions “box:” (1) rank (2) grades (3) courses (4) standardized tests. These corners define the domain of readiness and the likelihood of success. Family circumstance, intellectual ability, personal commitment, energy and a host of other idiosyncratic conditions impact the potential for merit-based support. However, the challenges of life’s situations should not undermine the value of merit-based scholarships for high-performing students.
At WT, beginning this fall 2021 semester, we will offer additional merit-based scholarships to more students. These scholarships, up to $8,000 per year, can lead to a total benefit of $32,000 for a bachelor’s degree, thus creating a dramatic reduction in the cost of study. Competition increases as award levels rise. However, students whose performance is strong but not at the highest level can still expect significant savings. WT is not unique in this effort. However, coupled with a high level of operational efficiency, merit scholarships provide remarkable value through a challenging and rewarding educational experience.
Need-based scholarships and other support are available in many forms at WT. The most common form of student grants is Federal Pell Grants. These need-based awards require satisfactory academic performance. Last year, the total national awards exceeded $28 billion. Grants, not loans, and no repayment is required. Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is necessary. (All high school seniors in Texas are required to complete the FAFSA application by law). This process does take some effort, but considering the return on investment, the effort is time well spent. Pell Grants stipulate continued satisfactory performance and are limited to 12 semesters of full-time enrollment or six years. In addition, Texas Public Education Grants (TPEG) are available to students pursuing a first bachelor’s degree. TPEG also requires the FAFSA/TAFSA application. In addition, the Texas Grant and several other opportunities exist at WT. The roadblocks for genuinely needy students are few, but students must be informed, ready to participate and work hard.
Completion-based scholarships are a distinctive form of scholarship support and financial aid at WT. The Dr. Johnny and Jana Trotter Agricultural Graduation Success Plan is available to students in the Department of Agricultural Sciences who complete their degree and are provided with up to eight long semesters of funding of $5,000 per semester or $40,000 for the bachelor’s degree. The applicant must successfully complete the degree program while having maintained a minimum GPA of 2.5. This post-graduation award combines the very best individual initiative and responsibility with academic performance, supporting students who set a goal and achieve that goal.
There are other forms of self-help for college students. Even students planning to begin studies this fall have a chance to seek financial aid. In addition, working 10 hours per week while attending college supports study and helps lower the absolute cost of attendance. Moreover, such a commitment usually results in higher academic achievement when work does not exceed 15 hours per week, according to Georgetown University. It is especially rewarding for students who work on campus. Such work provides a second avenue of a caring community connection in college life. Being enrolled as a student and simultaneously an employee leads to enhanced community support for study and an enriched learning experience.
As students frame up their approach to college in these last few months before the fall, every means available to reduce educational expenses should be pursued. There are many opportunities available. At West Texas A&M University, we aspire for students to finish strong without the choking albatross of over-indebtedness.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.