HOUSTON (AP) - Texas Southern University is contending with a nearly 10 percent loss of enrollment, a $7 million budget shortfall and a drop in its bond rating.

It would take an additional 300 to 400 students next year to close the budget gap. The Houston-based university has 7,744 full-time students but President John Rudley wants to push that number in excess of 10,000.

A Houston newspaper reports that schools across the country saw students depart after the federal government squeezed the flow of financial aid. Historically black schools, such as TSU, are particularly vulnerable because the majority of students rely on grants and loans. Eighty-two percent of TSU students depend on federal financial aid.

The Pell grant, which provides thousands of dollars to low-income students each semester, was reduced to a maximum of six years of use from nine. About 700 TSU students were on the nine-year plan, many of them single mothers who managed to take one or two classes each semester.

A report by Moody s Investors Services, which has rated TSU since the mid-1990 s, states that if enrollment stays flat, there will be a $6.3 million shortfall next year. The report also says the university has a small cash reserve, something not unusual for a school like TSU, said Marybeth Gassman, an expert on historically black colleges with the Penn Center for Minority-Serving institutions.

Rudley and other school officials have been touring high schools in hopes of doubling next year s freshman class. He created a summer school program to help students that don t meet the admission standards.

Meanwhile, the school is building a $51 million dorm with 800 rooms, cafeterias and recreational areas to keep students on campus. The university s financial woes come after Rudley has worked to improve its standing, such as by tightening admission requirements. Rudely replaced Priscilla Slade as president of the university more than six years ago following a scandal that forced her resignation.

Information from: Houston Chronicle,

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