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UT-PA’s Nelsen says budget cuts hit hard at Hispanic-serving institutions

Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, said that state budget cuts have dealt a particularly harsh blow to Hispanic-serving institutions like his, where 89 percent of students are on financial aid and 59 percent have Pell grants.

At this school in the Rio Grande Valley just miles from the Mexican border, students’ average family income is around $29,000 a year and most work at least part-time.

Nelsen is concerned he will have to make major cuts in faculty, staff and classes.

UTPA President Robert Nelsen
UTPA President Robert Nelsen

UTPA President Robert Nelsen

“We did everything possible not to cut classes from the schedule, so we cut other services. We cut $180,000 in distance education, $291,000 in travel, $300,000 in startup funds for faculty, $68,000 in marketing,” he said. That’s just the beginning.

“The money was cut so we could keep the grants for the students,” he said. The Texas Legislature, he said, did help by providing $23 million in TEXAS grants, which will fund 1,538 students. “That still leaves us short. It looks like about 535 students we will be funding with other grants. I think we will be able to cover most of the kids, and that’s been our priority.”

“We are at the new normal,” he said. “I don’t think the funds will ever come back. We have to be more efficient with what we are doing. We are already doing more with less, and now we are going to have to do less with less.”

“We will have to be very aggressive at pursuing grants and federal dollars. And we will have to really ramp up what we are doing with philanthropy. We received more Texas grants than any other institutions. And we have been deliberately able to keep tuition low.”

He said that Hispanic-serving universities like his will be the ones shaping the future of the state. Nelsen said faculty salaries at UT-PA are less than at “just about any other place,” but the university’s staff has a mission: “to educate the people of the Rio Grande Valley.”

“People need to realize that the future of Texas is South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley,” Nelsen said. “In Texas high schools, 50.2 percent of the students are Hispanic. Pan Am is not just going to survive, it is going to thrive.”

Last week the Texas Independent looked at how budget cuts and higher ed reforms are affecting Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

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