The University of Texas at Austin is expanding its commitment to making college more affordable.
The school will more than triple the amount of students eligible for its tuition assistance — including full coverage of tuition and fees for some — according to an announcement made Tuesday.
The UT System Board of Regents voted Tuesday to create a $160 million endowment using a distribution from the Texas Permanent University Fund to expand UT Austin’s Texas Advance Commitment program starting with the fall 2020 semester.
That program currently provides full tuition assistance for students from families earning up to $30,000 per year and guaranteed financial aid for qualified families earning up to $100,000. More than 4,000 students received aid from the program this past year.
The endowment will allow UT Austin to expand the program for in-state undergraduate students to: completely cover tuition and fees for more than 8,600 students per year from families earning up to $65,000 annually, and to provide partial aid for an additional 5,700 students from families earning up to $125,000 per year who have financial need.
The college estimates nearly one quarter of its Texas resident undergraduate students would qualify for the full tuition aid based on the new plan. Students still would be responsible for paying room and board.
UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves said he expects the endowment to be life-changing for many students.
“We expect it will have a tremendous impact,” Fenves said. “College affordability is one of the most important issues facing families these days.”
Fenves said he was grateful to the members of the board of regents for their commitment to investing in students.
The program is what is known as “last dollar” financial aid, meaning it kicks in after other sources of financial aid, such as federal Pell Grants and state aid, are used.
UT Austin is the top ranked public college in the state, according to Niche.com, which ranks schools and colleges. The university also boasted the highest four-year graduation rate of all public colleges in Texas, at 69.8 percent in 2018.
Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife, who is a former Tyler mayor and a former state senator, said the board is committed to making accessibility and affordability focal points.
“We have taken a real focus at the UT system on making our priority students and doing everything we can to make education affordable for them,” Eltife said.
While this endowment is just for the UT Austin campus, Eltife said the UT System will continue working to make college more affordable at all of its campuses.
“We’re going to stay focused on this issue,” Eltife said. “So we’ll do everything we can at all our campuses to make (attending college) affordable and accessible for all our students.”
Eltife said that when regents began discussing a distribution from the permanent fund, they wanted to find an investment that would continue in perpetuity, and UT Austin’s Texas Advance Commitment was the right fit.
The average tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students at UT Austin comes to $10,314 per year, according to a statement from the school. The maximum Pell award for 2019-20 is $6,195, according to the U.S. Department of Education.