The new financial aid commitment voted by the University of Texas System Board of Regents Tuesday, July 9, will cover tuition and fees for students whose annual household income is $65,000 or less. An estimated 8,600 students, or 24 percent of the undergraduate student body will benefit from this endowment. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted unanimously to establish a $160 million endowment for the purpose of UT Austin’s financial assistance program for low- and middle-income students. The endowment will be drawn from the state’s Permanent University Fund earning from long-standing management of state-owned land in West Texas, which is leased out to oil and gas companies, funneling two-thirds of the profit into the UT system.

The move will expand UT Austin’s Texas Advance Commitment program, which started in the fall of 2018 and covered full tuition and fees for students with families earning up to $30,000 a year. More than 4,000 students were supported during the first year of implementation. 

Hence, beginning in fall 2020, tuition and fees of more than 8,600 in-state undergraduates, including first-year through fourth-year and transfer students, from families earning up to $65,000 annually will be covered. 

“Recognizing both the need for improved access to higher education and the high value of a UT Austin degree, we are dedicating a distribution from the Permanent University Fund to establish an endowment that will directly benefit students and make their degrees more affordable,” Board Chairman Kevin Eltife said after the vote. “This will benefit students of our great state for years to come.”

UT Austin officials noted that the expansion of need-based financial assistance extends to middle income families, offering finance partial tuition support for an additional 5,700 students from families earning up to $125,000 a year with financial need. The school noted that the average median household income in Texas in 2017 was $59,206. 

Tuition and fees at UT Austin for an in-state undergraduate student is $10,314 a year, less than 12 other Texas public universities, according to data published by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Low-income 20-year-old Dallas resident, Zachary Henry, an incoming junior at UT Austin, expressed that the endowment will make a world of difference to UT’s most vulnerable students. 

Henry said he could hardly return to school in the coming semester because he was told in April that part of his financial aid had dried up. His grant was restored only after his effort of organizing a protest and gathering more than 500 signatures on a petition to draw attention to the financial aid needs of the poorest students received attention of the financial aid office.

But he wonders what happens to low-income students who don’t have the will to take on the system. 

“Money is a very personal subject and a lot of people feel defeated by it,” he said. “This guarantee is absolutely fantastic.” 

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