January 23rd, 2014
Changing majors for university students in Texas now comes at a higher price due to the excess-hour fee charged under the Enrollment Cap Rule (ECR).
Since fall 2013, undergraduate students enrolled in more than 30 hours beyond the minimum required for their degree plan are charged a fee of $351 per semester credit hour, in addition to their standard tuition rates. Such fees could mean up to $4,000 in excess hour tuition charges per semester, according to a bulletin post by the University Academic Advising Center.
While the increase in the fee charges have recently occurred, the ECR has limited UTPA’s affordable tuition since it was enforced by the state of Texas in 2006.
Breaking the status quo, UTPA was recently featured in Affordable College Online’s ranking of “Online Colleges in Texas That Win on Affordability.” Having ranked fifth out of 49, the University has been recognized as an institution that offers online degree programs at prices lower than other post-secondary competitors, such as Sul Ross State University and University of Houston-Downtown. In comparison, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin ranked sixth and The University of Texas at Tyler ranked 19th.
In addition, UTPA boasts an annual tuition that is approximately $3,000 less than Texas State University and Texas A&M University and $5,000 less than the University of Texas at Dallas.
Each year, UTPA awards scholarships through the UTPA Excellence and Departmental Scholarship program, which consists of more than 100 available departmental scholarships. The application opened in early September 2013 and closed Jan. 15.
The accessibility to scholarships, work-study and internship opportunities makes UTPA affordable, according to Kaitylnn Lavallee, a biology major at UTPA.
“I know of many people on financial aid and there are scholarship, internship and employment opportunities on campus for students,” the 19-year-old said. “I am very blessed to already have a job on campus with the agro-ecology lab, aiding my living expenses and savings for next year.”
Jael Garcia, associate director for Student Financial Services, commented that the University accommodates students by providing higher education that is both affordable and accessible.
“Our tuition is relatively low,” Garcia said. “And it is commonly known that the Federal Pell Grant does not cover all of the student expenses and the majority have to pay out of their own pocket. However, at the University, we have students who are able to pay their tuition and fees with just their Federal Grant and they don’t have to worry about loans and such.”
Janette Vasquez, who is working toward a Master’s degree in information technology, lives at home and commented on the deciding factors that led her to choose UTPA.
“I chose UTPA because tuition is lower,” the 25-year-old said. “There’s plenty of financial aid, tuition isn’t too high and, as a local student, I don’t have to waste (money) on living costs or an apartment.”
Tuition and fees at UTPA are estimated at $5,034 per semester, an affordable insitution in comparison to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s, whose tuition and fees are $6,594 per semester, according to affordablecolelgesonline.com
CHEAP WITH LIMITATIONS
However, with such affordable tuition available to students, many have found it easy to change their majors midway through their education, thus prolonging graduation. As a result, they have accumulated excess hours and cost the state further expenses in financial aid.
In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 59 percent of students enrolled full time in a four-year institution aiming to obtain a Bachelor’s degree graduated within six years.
In an effort to help students graduate on time, the ECR was created to encourage undergraduate students that attend public colleges and universities to complete their degree programs in a four-year period, according to the Undergraduate Academic Policies and Procedures Information.
However, for senior political science major Andrew Coward, the ECR is anything but encouraging.
“The Enrollment Cap Rule has me in an uncomfortable state of mind,” Coward said. “I now have new loan debts I have to pay for when I graduate because my financial aid is no longer enough to cover my tuition.”
According to the political science major, his tuition for the spring semester exceeds what he was charged in spring 2012, despite the fact that he is now registered for one hour less.
“I am paying more now that I am registered for 12 hours than what I paid last year when I took 13,” Coward said. “It’s crazy.”
According to the ECR, some students with accumulated excess-credit hours may have acquired them while taking dual-enrollment in high school, through remedial courses, or while studying in private or out-of-state-institutions. However, students with such excess hours are exempt from the ECR fees. Other exemptions include:
1. Any hours earned 10 or more years before a student’s enrollment under the Academic Fresh Start Program (a program that allows Texas residents who apply for admission or readmission into Texas public colleges to begin a new course of study with a clear academic record);
2. Hours from a previous Bachelor’s degree;
3. Hours earned via credit-by-exams or any similar methods that did not require registration for a course.
However, students not exempt from the ECR fees are those who exceeded their hours by taking classes that did not count toward their degree or those who changed majors.
This is the case for Coward, who changed his mind multiple times.
“I changed my major twice,” he said. “But while I studied at South Texas College, not UTPA.”
According to the ECR, Coward’s change of major in another institution does not exempt him from being subject to the charges because STC, like UTPA, is a public Texas institution.
Despite his new debt as a result of the higher tuition, Coward believes he will manage to complete his education on time.
This may not be the case, however, for students from low-income backgrounds.
“These higher tuition rates may push low-income students out and take away their opportunity of obtaining a higher education,” the political science major said.
For senior general studies major Olivia Carrillo, higher tuition means transitioning from being a full-time to a part-time student. But, unlike Coward, her fees are not from changing her major, but rather from dual-enrollment she earned in high school.
Although Carrillo’s dual-credit earned hours make her exempt from the excess-hour fees and she will seek to correct the charges with the UTPA registrar, she can do little to avoid the financial worry until then.
“I graduated as a junior from high school and have been a full-time student since I started at UTPA,” Carrillo said. “But now, even though I work, if I am not able to get these charges corrected and clarified, I will not be able to afford it.”
Despite plans to graduate in fall 2014, Carrillo’s goal may be delayed due to the new financial hardships the ECR charges may present.
“My parents don’t earn enough to help me pay for school,” Carrillo said. “With my job, I can barely cover my books and expenses. I don’t know how I would graduate if the charges are final.”
In an effort to correct her excessive tuition, Carrillo will contact the Registrar’s Office to have them review her bill and appeal her charges.
The general studies major recommends other students in this situation do the same.
“No matter what, if something doesn’t seem right, do not do just nothing about it,” Carrillo said. “It’s our education on the line. It’s worth the effort, the time and the worry.”
December 20th, 2013
The University women’s basketball swept in a win against the University of Texas at Arlington with a score of 75-63 at the Field House Dec. 18. After the win the team is now tied for the best season start in program history at 6-4.
The win was much needed after two back- to-back losses against Texas A&M and Texas Christian University, stated Shawnte’, Goff a guard for the Broncs.
“We came out and did what we needed to do,” Goff said. “We didn’t play good at TCU, we didn’t do good at Corpus, so we knew we had to come out and get this win.”
On top of the win the team put forward a season high of 11 three pointers, fourth highest in program history. Goff scored seven of those totaling her career-game high of 25 points. Trailing behind her was Jasmine Thompson who scored a game high of 22 points with five rebounds and three steals.
Goff and Thompson lead the team in scoring but at first the team struggled as they were down 28 to 15 with 10:30 seconds left in the first half. But the Bronc’s held tough and eventually caught up and pilled within one point with only 7 minutes left in the first half. UTA however, still held on to the lead until Goff scored a three pointer tying the game in the second half at 41, and the rest is history.
As Tonisha Walker, a guard explains they struggled at first due to one of their top scorers being out due to a broken toe.
“We all had to step up and contribute,” Walker said. “We have depth as a team and we will pull out in the end.”
Despite the setback of an injury and rocky start to their game the Bronc’s prevailed and will face off against the University of Nebraska at Omaha in Wichita, Ks. Dec. 21.
December 5th, 2013
For the nearly 1,000 students on the cusp of graduating in spring 2014, there are only a few more classes that stand between them leaving college. However, these classes could cost double the price they were originally paying when they first enrolled at UTPA.
The excess credit hours policy is a statewide policy. According to the state law, once a student has taken more than 30 hours required for their degree plan, they will be charged with non-resident tuition. This includes courses that are repeated, duplicated and/or dropped. With a recent approval to increase these charges, prices can jump from $810 for nine hours of classes to $3,186 by fall 2014, as stated on the Academic Advisement Center’s page on the policy. The law was implemented in spring 2006 and affects students at all public universities and colleges in Texas.
“What happens is that the state no longer reimburses the University for part of (a student’s) tuition,” explained Marilyn Hagerty, director of the University Academic Advisement Center (UAAC). “When you’ve reached your limit, the state says, ‘We’re no longer going to pay for part of your tuition,’ which is why you’re then charged for out-of-state tuition…basically it’s to get students to graduate sooner.”
Students are normally informed of this policy at their UTPA Orientation and the UAAC has held monthly information sessions since the excess hour charge was approved. Students who transfer from private institutions or institutions out of the state are not affected since the state does not pay for these credits earned.
According to Hagerty, students affected by this policy the most are ones who change their majors later in their academic careers.
“The later you change your major, the more you’re most likely to be impacted,” Hagerty said. “Students who also drop too many credits or keep repeating a class to get a better grade are mostly affected as well.”
For students who are notified of reaching their limit, their next step is to seek help from the advisement center to appeal the fees.
“When we get a report back that accounts for all of the student’s credits, we then schedule an appointment with the student and a professional guidance counselor so they can sit down and see where they are and how much time they have before they graduate,” Hagerty said. “Once they’ve developed a graduation plan and they see that they don’t have a lot of time in between then and graduation, then the student can go through with appealing the law.”
This was the case with Esteban Padilla, a senior chemistry major, that was affected by this policy when he attempted to pursue a double major in music and chemistry.
“Because the two degrees are so far apart, I had to appeal to get an extra 50 hours to my cap,” Padilla said. “However, as I got closer to graduation and saw that I would need even more hours, it became a situation where I had to give up the music major because financially I would not be able to add on extra classes.”
According to a 2011 study done by the National Center for Education Statistics, 59 percent of students attending a four-year institution graduated within six years, with 57 percent of these students attending public institutions. As for UTPA, a U.S. News ranking shows that the four-year graduation rate is at 18 percent, while its six-year graduation rate is 39 percent.
As the policy continues to be enforced, Padilla agrees with the policy’s intention to get students graduating within four years.
“I’d go as far as calling it a necessary evil,” Padilla said. “It really upset me to give up the major and if I had to go through it all over again I would hate it, but it forced me to get more career-oriented and find which direction I wanted to go in life.”
June 14th, 2013
Freshmen Magdalena Chapa signs a banner displayed in the Student Union by Bronc Bacchus Peer Educators in celebration of National Flag Day. The club, which raises awareness of health and safety issues campus-wide, wanted to honor veterans, Program Coordinator Nancy Chapa said.
“Today, we wanted to do something for our veterans, so we displayed a banner for people to sign,” Nancy, who will be a graduate student in rehabilitation counseling in the fall, said. “Along with (the banner) we have information regarding post-traumatic stress disorder, it affects many veterans, but also can affect other people.”
PTSD is a mental health condition that may develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as a serious injury or sexual assault. Nearly 30 percent of veterans have the disorder, according to a 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This disorder is just one of many issues the club provides information on, Cantu said.
“We cover four areas: mental health, substance abuse, well-being and sexual responsibility,” she said.
June 13th, 2013
The U.S. Senate is on the second day of open debate regarding Senate Bill 744, an immigration bill that would allow an estimated 11 million current undocumented immigrants in the United States to become U.S. citizens. S. 744, also known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, addresses all aspects of the immigration process, from border security to legal immigration issues.
Introduced to the Senate April 16, the bill was crafted by a group of bipartisan senators known as the “Gang of Eight”: Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). This bill could potentially affect the 645 Dreamers that attend UTPA; Dreamers is a term used for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States when they were young and are now pushing for immigration reform.
If this bill is passed, the Department of Homeland Security would need to craft a plan to secure high-risk sectors of the border, areas that arrest more than 30,000 undocumented immigrants annually, and add more fencing.
In addition, undocumented immigrants would be able to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status. Among other requirements, to qualify for this status, a person must have been physically present in the United States on or before Dec. 31, 2011. After being an RPI for 10 years, a person would then be able to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status. Three years later, the person would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
However, if the bill is passed, there is a streamlined path to citizenship available to those who entered the United States before the age of 16, graduated from high school or received a GED in the States and attended two years of college or served four years in the military. Echoing the Dream Act, this provision would allow college students who meet this criteria to apply for RPI status, proceed to LPR status after five years and then could immediately apply for U.S. citizenship.
May 24th, 2013
As many as 738,000 people in the United States suffer from severe hearing loss, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Before Better Speech and Hearing Month comes to a close, which has been celebrated by ASHA every May since 1927, the Speech and Hearing Center at UTPA held an open house for the public May 7 to raise awareness of this issue.
The clinic offers hearing and speech screenings to clients who think they have an impairment preventing them from hearing or speaking clearly. Along with faculty, graduate students help assess and treat people who have problems swallowing, hearing and speaking, as well as with language fluency and reducing foreign accents. Clients are often referred to the clinic by friends, family members or doctors, and in an effort to provide services to those in need, they are not refused services based on their inability to pay.
“We wanted to have this event to give everyone an opportunity to come in and see our clinic,” said Lyena Garza, clinical manager in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “Many times we hear that a lot of people don’t know about our Speech and Hearing Center and the services we offer here.”
The Speech and Hearing Center, located in the Health Sciences and Human Services West building, provides services to students, faculty and the community. Clients can receive speech-language evaluations, which include a two-hour assessment where a speech and language sample is taken and the client’s medical history is reviewed. Clinicians can then determine whether the client is eligible to receive services at the clinic, and if so, the type of service needed.
The clinic also offers audiological screenings for clients who have hearing impairments. They include an audio evaluation performed by Bailey Wang, the only audiologist at the clinic.
“The main purpose of this facility is to serve the community, but also to help our graduate students get their hours for their practicum,” Garza said.
Each semester graduate students in the communication sciences and disorders program work under the supervision of a licensed physician, participate in clients’ treatments and therapy, and gain experience in the field. The therapy and audiological rooms where clients receive treatments are equipped with cameras and two-way mirrors serving as a way for supervisors to view the graduate students while the latter assess clients.
The clinic offers services during the academic calendar, meaning that clients receive the help they require for a period of 11 to 14 weeks each semester. If a patient is in need of additional therapy after a semester session, they return for another term, but they always have a different clinician providing the services to help clients learn or improve communication skills in different situations and to allow graduate students to gather various experiences with clients.
Julie Palacios-Elisondo, a communication sciences and disorders graduate student, works at the Speech and Hearing Center to complete her practicum hours. She encourages parents to have children assessed if there is a delay in speech or an abnormality in hearing. Better Speech and Hearing month, she said, is good for the public to be aware that the issues of hearing and speech loss are important and prevalent in the Rio Grande Valley community.
“Everyone uses communication,” she said. “It’s important for children and the elderly, everyone, to be able to get their point across. For learning, for safety, it’s important that everyone be able to communicate. That’s what we want to help people regain here at the clinic.”
May 17th, 2013
One day after the announcement of a new parking expansion project, the plan has been put on hold, according to Oscar Villarreal, the director of facilities management.
“We’ve already stopped construction until we are able to meet with administrators to talk about the project and the property,” Villarreal said.
The new parking area, which is to be located north of the College of Business Administration, is going to create 334 new parking spaces, improve traffic flow and improve drainage, according to an email sent to students and faculty May 16.
But for the moment “some issues with the parking lot need to be (worked) out,” Villarreal said.
No further details have been provided as to when the project will resume construction.
May 10th, 2013
Legislation for new university moves forward, medical school controversy arises
The Texas State Senate Higher Education Committee passed legislation May 8 that would allow the creation of the new university, merging UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville, and creating a new medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
If the legislation gets two-thirds support in the Texas Legislature, the new university and medical school would have access to the Permanent University Fund, a state-owned endowment that funds public higher education in Texas.
“I remain very optimistic that a final bill will be passed in the next few weeks,” UTPA President Robert Nelsen said in an email sent to University students and faculty.
However, there is still dispute as to where the medical school will be located. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-Texas, substituted language in the senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 24, that changes who has the final word in where the medical school will be located.
Originally, the bill assigned the duty to an advisory panel of national experts assembled by the University of Texas System. The change made by Hinojosa would expunge that panel and require the first two years of students’ medical education be conducted in Hidalgo County, which he represents. The following two years of medical education would be held in Cameron County.
Supporters of Hinojosa’s amendment think that waiting for an advisory panel would slow progress toward building the long-awaited medical school in the Valley, according to a May 8 article in the Texas Tribune. In addition, the article said opponents, in a petition against Hinojosa’s proposed change, call the amendment “a complete reversal of the agreement made earlier this session by all of the interested parties.”
The House Higher Education Committee rejected Hinojosa’s amendments May 10 and a resolution to the issue has yet to be made.
Two more held without bond in UTPA kidnapping case
Onan Herrera-Sanchez, a 28-year-old Honduran citizen, and Miguel Angel Navarro, a 35-year-old Hidalgo resident, were ordered to be held without bond, meaning they must remain in jail until their court appearances and no one can pay a bail on their behalf, pending trial on charges of conspiracy and hostage taking, according to federal court documents filed May 1. Milton Leonel Treviño, Navarro’s 20-year-old nephew, was charged with the same offenses and held without bond April 9. All three have pleaded not guilty.
The three men are being held for allegedly kidnapping Ana Elizondo, a psychology graduate student, and holding her for ransom. She was taken from a University parking lot Sept. 25, 2012. She was returned unharmed just more than 24 hours later.
Navarro and Herrera-Sanchez are scheduled to appear for a final pretrial hearing May 31.
Read the full story of the alleged kidnapping here.
May 9th, 2013
Kareem Wahid can see sound, and those who attended the Physics Phaire May 5 could see it too. Wahid was one of over 400 attendees of the free event, held in McAllen by the University and the International Museum of Arts and Sciences.
The goal of the Physics Phaire was to bring students from the College of Math and Sciences, UTeach, the Astronomy Club, the Geology Club, Society of Physics and the C-STEM program to show middle school students the importance of science, technology, education and math, or STEM, fields.
The UTeach program offers students the opportunity to be present and teach in a real public classroom setting and the C-STEM Student Research Program allows students and faculty to conduct research and retain students in the STEM departments.
“STEM rates are low in the U.S. and what I see is that kids aren’t exposed to events in the field,” said 18-year-old Wahid, a senior physics major from McAllen.
In the United States, 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees from universities were in the STEM programs in 2009, according to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. By 2018, science and engineering careers are expected to grow 20 percent.
Wahid, the assistant coordinator of the event, conducted a presentation called “Oscilloscope Waveforms” in which he displayed the waveforms of musical instruments. To conduct this project his group connected the oscilloscope, a type of electrical test instrument, to microphones. It displayed the waveforms, or shapes and forms, of various musical instruments when played during the presentation.
Laura Copeland, curriculum and program director for IMAS, approached Daniel Plas, assistant professor of biology and curriculum instruction, in January. They started working on the event the following month as an outreach program to children.
“We’re an international art and science museum and we wanted to make the surrounding community aware of how important physics is because it’s a part of our world,” Copeland said. “Everything we touch is physics, from a pair of shoes to computers to robots.”
The event received financial support from the University and the College of Math and Science to make projects available to the general public. Organizers expected an audience of 200 attendees but the event exceeded this goal by over 200. Children and parents were interested in the various topics they were exposed to.
“The children were intrigued by topics they weren’t intrigued by before,” Erika Hanson, a tour and outreach specialist at IMAS, said. “The kids were excited about the event and also the parents. It was a pleasure to have UTPA.”
Plas hopes to have another Physic Phaire next year.
“We are hoping to continue. If people have never visited IMAS, it’s a chance to see it because it is open to the community,” Plas said. “We want them to see physics in action, to see physics in the world.”