$1 million mistake by UTMB means free ride for students


by Shern-Min Chow / 11 News


Posted on September 28, 2010 at 12:22 AM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 29 at 9:32 AM

GALVESTON -- A nearly $1 million miscalculation by a University of Texas college will mean a full-ride scholarship for several students from the Houston area. 

The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston admitted far too many students.  It’s apparently a miscalculation that has never happened before in the history of any Texas medical school.  

UTMB has 230 slots for each class, but this year it overfilled the class by about 10 percent.  When asked why, UTMB officials at first insisted it was because “everyone wanted to come” because of its excellent reputation.

“We have led [the] state of Texas in our board score performance. We have an excellent diverse student body,” said Associate Dean of Admissions Lauree Thomas.

There was also Ike.  The hurricane cost UTMB thousands of jobs, $700 million in repairs and forced many students to other campuses to complete coursework.

“It was really horrifying and to come back to campus pretty much the first level of everything was really demolished,” recalled Michaela Marek, a fourth-year medical student.

Could it be that admissions overcompensated for the Ike factor?

“It might. It might. Again that was an unknown,” Thomas said.

In 2008 before Ike, UTMB made offers to 544 students.

Right after Ike, that number jumped dramatically to 661. This year, there were 631 offers.

Admissions is a delicate formula. Schools know many students will choose to go elsewhere, but UTMB ended up with 25 more students than slots.

11 News contacted the other three medical schools in the UT system and none of them had ever over-admitted for any incoming class.  Baylor College of Medicine in Houston said it has never over-admitted either.

The Texas Medical Dental Application Service, which oversees all public and private medical school applications in Texas said it had never seen anything like this before.  The service’s director, Budge Mabry, called it “extremely unusual.”

With the way the system works, over-admitted students can’t simply go to another medical school.  There are no spots for them elsewhere.  UTMB was eventually left with 15 over-admissions, because 10 students did not come for personal reasons.

UTMB tried to fix the situation by starting with the cheapest option. It asked for volunteers to take a year off, but no one accepted. Then it started offering money in exchange for a one-year deferral.

Thomas said the next offer was a $10,000 scholarship and they got two responses.

UTMB made another offer for $15,000 and no one responded.

With the start of school looming, UTMB made the big jump.  Thomas explained the offer was upped to $15,000 a year for a total of $60,000 on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“We had more than enough volunteers,” she said.

“I would take that up,” said fourth-year student Katie Mcquade.

It’s a deal other students would've liked, especially since many have huge student loans.

“I'm about $100,000 in debt,” said fourth-year student Chandler Rainy said.

UTMB must also balance its books. Fifteen students not paying $15,000 over four years adds up to $900,000 in lost tuition.

Thomas was unworried.

“Many of these students were going to be eligible for scholarship awards anyway,” she said. 
Was there an adverse impact to other students who might have applied for those funds? 

"Oh no,” Thomas said. “Because, no there is no adverse impact."

She went on to list several scholarship sources that would presumably otherwise go to needy or strong academic students.
One day after the interview with Thomas, UTMB spokesman Raul Reyes called to say that was wrong.   Instead of scholarships, it will use "local unrestricted funds."

Those are clinic fees and money from other sources routinely “reinvested” in the university.  
Reyes added that while $900,000 seems like a lot of money, it is certainly manageable over four years within UTMB’s budget.
More info and resources: 

UTMB Statement Regarding the Scholarship dollars from Unrestricted Funds to replace $900,000 in lost tuition:
These are not tax dollars.
• Unrestricted funds means that we can choose how to best spend those funds.
•  We routinely reinvest in our facilities, equipment, staff and students. No money has been lost: it’s being invested for the training of physicians that Texas sorely needs.

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