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Last week, the University of Texas at Austin announced full tuition support for students from families making less than $65,000 and guaranteed financial aid for students from families making up to $125,000 who have financial need beginning in fall 2020.
This new support will expand upon UT Austin’s Texas Advance Commitment, developed in 2018 to cover the full price of tuition for students from families earning $30,000 or less and offer assured support for students from families earning up to $100,000. The new program will also make the Texas Advance Commitment available to transfer students.
In UT Austin’s press release, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves thanked Kevin Eltife, Board of Regents chairman, for prioritizing students and investing in Texas’s future, calling college affordability one of the most critical issues affecting Texans.
“Thanks to (Eltife’s) leadership and the board’s action, this new endowment will go a long way toward making our university affordable for talented Texas students from every background and region,” Fenves said.
The expansion of UT Austin’s Texas Advance Commitment has drawn comparisons to the University of Michigan’s Go Blue Guarantee, implemented in 2018. Like the new Texas Advance Commitment, the Go Blue Guarantee promises to help pay the full price of tuition and fees for undergraduate students from families making less than $65,000. Both programs work by covering the remaining cost of tuition after factoring in the student’s other sources of tuition funding, grants and scholarships.
In an email to The Daily, J.B. Bird, UT Austin Director of Media Relations and Newsroom, confirmed UT Austin looked at tuition support programs at institutions across the nation, including Michigan.
“In setting up the program, UT Austin was very mindful of similar promise and commitment programs in Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas and other states,” Bird wrote.
Laura Rall, president of Affordable Michigan and current Rackham student. explained she is a first-generation student who benefited from the provisions of the Go Blue Guarantee, before it was officially given the name.
“Things like the Go Blue Guarantee are allowing kids, if they want to, to leave the town they grew up in,” Rall said. “I spent my entire life in my hometown, and if it wasn’t for (University of Michigan’s financial aid), I wouldn’t have been able to come here.”
Rall’s testimony aligns with the University of Michigan’s fall 2018 enrollment report, which found a 24 percent increase in admissions applications from lower-income students and almost a 6 percent increase in the enrollment of freshmen from families earning less than $65,000.
Last year also saw enrollment increases among underrepresented minorities, first-generation students and Pell Grant recipients. These positive trends indicate concrete effects of the Go Blue Guarantee following previous Daily reporting, which shows the University was achieving initial success in attracting interest in the University from students in underrepresented communities.
‘U’ vs. UT Austin Financial Aid
The new Texas Advance Commitment is an expansion of provisions under UT Austin’s existing program. However, in a previous statement to The Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald explained the Go Blue Guarantee was not a drastic change from what the University had already offered in aid prior to the program’s implementation.
Rather, Fitzgerald elaborated, the Go Blue Guarantee is a marketing campaign intended to help prospective students better understand the University’s financial aid options.
“One of the things we hope this will overcome is that perception that (the University) is too expensive, even though there’s this really powerful financial aid available,” Fitzgerald said. “This takes away that barrier from the initial application.”
When Rall was applying to the University as a high schooler, she shared she was not aware of available financial aid. To Rall, the best part about the Go Blue Guarantee is how it rebrands the University’s financial aid options into a more easily understandable and shareable message.
“That is one of the biggest things U-M has done, is just give it a name, because that alone has helped students think ‘Oh, I can apply here,’” Rall said. “It gets students in the door.”
To expand their means of support, the UT Austin Board of Regents voted unanimously in July to establish a new $160 million endowment from a portion of their distribution of the Permanent University Fund. The Permanent University Fund draws money from gas and oil royalties earned from state-owned land on the western side of Texas.
In an email to The Daily, Fitzgerald confirmed the University does not have a specific endowment set aside for the Go Blue Guarantee and other forms of financial aid, though he said there is strong support for student financial aid in the endowment and from donors.
As of October 2018, the University’s endowment is valued at $11.9 billion, the third among public universities after two university systems, including the University of Texas System. In December 2018, the system’s endowment reached $31 billion — the second largest in the country — putting them ahead of Yale University but still behind Harvard University.
However, the UT System endowment is split into four different funds and only the largest of which, The Permanent University Fund, goes to the UT System and Texas A&M schools. The UT System then splits its portion of the PUF among its eight universities, with the Austin campus receiving 53 percent of the fund.
Rall expressed she would like to see the University also consider setting aside a designated portion of its endowment for financial aid, as she said UT Austin doing so shows their commitment to students with a clear, numeric value.
“By not having a specific section dedicated to financial aid, you can’t really tell what is taking priority over it or what it’s taking priority over,” Rall said. “So I think (the University) setting aside and putting the number on it would allow for a lot more transparency.”
In addition to full tuition coverage for students under the $65,000 threshold, the University’s Go Blue Guarantee also provides financial aid for students from families earning up to $180,000. Similarly, the Texas Advance Commitment offers aid for students from families earning up to $125,000, up from the $100,000 threshold before the establishment of its new endowment.
However, there is a difference in how each school determines it second-tier of tuition support. UT Austin does not include students who receive loans only in its count, while the University does.
The total number of students receiving either full or partial tuition coverage under the Texas Advance Commitment adds up to more than 14,300. According to the University Record, 70 percent of University in-state undergraduates — more than 11,200 students — receive some form of aid.
However, the University’s figure of more than 11,200 students includes students who receive loan-only aid packages. According to University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen, 2,796 in-state undergraduates received institutional need-based aid. Adding this figure to the students affected by the Go Blue Guarantee, this means almost 4,500 in-state students received full or partial institutional tuition coverage.
Broekhuizen noted these numbers may fluctuate a bit, as the aid year has not completely ended. She wrote that this number would increase if other sources of non-loan aid were considered, such as federal and state need-based grants and scholarships and private scholarships.
According to the University’s report, nearly 1,700 students benefited from the Go Blue Guarantee last year. In comparison, UT Austin predicts the expanded Texas Advance Commitment will provide full tuition coverage to more than 8,600 students a year.
Fenves told The Daily Texan, UT Austin’s student newspaper, he thinks the Texas Advance Commitment will impact more students compared to programs at other universities.
“We think we’re doing it at a larger scale than the other universities, primarily because the demographics of the state of Texas and students,” Fenves said.
As of 2018, the state of Michigan’s population is almost 10 million, compared to the state of Texas’s 28.7 million. Michigan is also around 75 percent Caucasian (not Hispanic or Latino), while Texas is 41.5 percent Caucasian (not Hispanic or Latino). By 2022, the Hispanic and Latino community is expected to become the largest population group in Texas.
Similarly, the student populations of the two schools reflect the demographics of their respective states. In the 2018-2019 school-year, UT Austin enrolled almost 10,500 more undergraduates than the University, almost 3 percent more of which came from underrepresented minority groups.
The University’s student population is almost 45 percent out-of-state, compared to 10.6 percent at UT Austin. Both schools include a count of international students — however, UT Austin notes 10.1 percent of its student population is foreign-born, while the University does not mention this category.
At both schools, the $65,000 threshold for full tuition support was determined by each respective state’s median income. In 2017, the Texas’s median income was more than $4,000 higher than Michigan’s.
However, a 2016 study found 27.7 percent of UT Austin’s student population came from the bottom 60 percent of household income earners, compared to the University’s 16.5 percent. The same study reported the University — out of 27 “highly selective” public colleges, including UT Austin — has the highest household median income and the highest percentage of the student body from the top 1 percent. Out of this group, the University also ranked last in terms of socioeconomic diversity and mobility.
As of now, both programs are only available to students on each school system’s flagship campus. This means the Go Blue Guarantee does not apply to U-M Flint and Dearborn students, and only UT System students at the UT Austin campus are eligible for the Texas Advance Commitment.
At the University, there have been calls to expand the Go Blue Guarantee to the Flint and Dearborn campuses from the One University Campaign. This campaign is a coalition of students, faculty and staff advocating for more equity in resource allocation between the University’s three campuses.
Rall’s organization Affordable Michigan grew out of the student-made guide Being Not-Rich at UM, a response to a Central Student Government affordability guide criticized for being “out-of-touch.” Rall noted UT Austin students were the second to create a “Being Not-Rich” guide. This shows UT Austin students are also clearly active in advocating for greater affordability on campus, Rall said.
Overall, Rall said she believes both schools’ financial aid programs are steps in the right direction. She expressed excitement at seeing schools across the nation commit to affordability.
“I hope to see more schools following these steps, especially all the bigger schools that can,” Rall said.