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Rebate rewards students for graduating on time
Punctuality Pays

Students who take time in college to "find themselves" may find themselves missing out on $1,000.

The $1,000 tuition rebate program, created by the 1997 Texas Legislature, was designed to discourage college students from taking unnecessary classes so they'll graduate faster, said Ray Grasshoff, assistant director of governmental relations for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

The number of students taking six or more years to graduate from Texas public universities has been increasing steadily, with only 52.5 percent of full-time students graduating within six years, according to the THECB.

"If everybody stays in college for a longer time, there's less capacity at our colleges to serve more students," Grasshoff said.

Texas residents who enrolled in college in fall 1997 or later and who have completed all coursework at Texas public institutions are eligible to receive $1,000 if they have attempted no more than three semester credit hours beyond what their degree plan requires. To accommodate part-time and working students, there is no minimum credit hour per semester requirement.

Cutting costs
In fiscal 2003, tuition and fees accounted for about 23 percent of the revenue of Texas public universities, while state appropriations made up 40 percent, according to the THECB. The rest come from endowments, federal funds and other sources.

"In a time of limited economic resources, the Legislature is really struggling with how they can most fairly distribute the resources that are available to the largest number of students," said Catherine Parsoneault, a program director for THECB. "Every time someone enrolls in a college program, everyone digs into their pockets to pay for it."

The universities are doing a little digging themselves, said Dr. Flavius Killebrew, former provost at West Texas A&M University and president of Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi.

"In a way, [the rebate is] a negative incentive for the university because it's not funded," Killebrew said. "Theoretically, we were supposed to get the money put back in our budget, but it never happened. At West Texas A&M University, it was costing me the equivalent of two faculty members a year. With two more faculty members, I could have offered more classes and had two more faculty to give advice--all of the things that have been proven to speed up graduation."

In addition, a graduate with student loans will not get the rebate--the money will be applied first to his or her student loans, according to Grasshoff.

Killebrew said most of the students who received the rebate would have graduated on time anyway.

"The students will tell you differently, of course, because they want the money," Killebrew said.

Lauren Bigley, 23, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, said the rebate incentive was one of the reasons she chose her courses so carefully.

"Before every registration, I would be in my advisor's office planning out the upcoming semester," Bigley said. She admits, however, that taking extra classes wasn't in her plans anyway.

"I really didn't have time to take on any unnecessary classes," she said.

Any amount helps
College students who qualify for the rebate admit that the extra cash helps with the transition from college to the job market.

"It was nice to know I had that reward coming to me after working so hard to finish school on time," Bigley said. "A lot of people don't think that $1,000 is very much money, especially after they've put in so much more to pay for college, but any amount helps, especially once you're out of college and looking for a job."

Angela Freeman