University works to assist low-income students with Texas Advance scholarship

Matthew Adams

UT is expanding an effort to diversify its campus by providing $20 million in scholarships over a four-year period to low-income students who might not otherwise consider Texas.

Diane Todd Sprague, director of the office of financial aid, said about 28 percent of UT students are considered lower-income and are eligible for some form of Federal Pell Grants. Todd Sprague said UT’s percentage — compared to Texas A&M’s 22 percent and other universities around the country — is healthy.

Texas Advance, a scholarship program heading into its second year, provides 945 scholarships to low-income students from the state of Texas. According to a previous report from the Houston Chronicle, 82 percent of parents of scholarship-eligible students make less than $59,999 and 23 percent make less than $20,000.

Carolyn Connerat, associate vice provost for student success initiatives, said the goal of this initiative is to make sure the scholarship program is open to students of all economic backgrounds who otherwise might not choose to attend UT.

“We had a record number of applications last year, and we think part of that is because we promoted this around the state, especially through high schools that we know are from under-resourced backgrounds,” Connerat said.

Connerat said that in addition to Texas Advance, UT has a total of $8 million in scholarships through the next seven years for students in the Houston area.

Erasto Renteria, president of the Hispanic Student Association and advertising junior, said his parents encouraged him to pursue scholarships after they sent his siblings to college.

“I sure wouldn’t be here if it were not for scholarships,” Renteria, who is from the Rio Grande Valley, said. “Being the youngest of four, my brother and sisters went to a community college in the area because it was cheaper. With me, [my parents] pushed me to look for scholarships and leave where I am from.”

Renteria said the increase in scholarships for minorities has helped the number of Hispanics at the University grow, evidenced by the fact that Hispanics comprise UT’s second-highest minority population behind Asians. Despite the success for these two minorities, Renteria said the University still needs to educate and teach students about diversity.

“We all come from different backgrounds and cultures,” Renteria said. “Discussions are happening, but it is important to teach about the different cultures and races. I get some did not grow up with the same experiences, but there needs to be more than just naming the issues.”

David McDonald, a former student director for Leonard Moore and the Minority Student Recruitment Initiative, said the initiative has helped connect with African-American students and educate them about the resources available to them. With the success the recruiting initiative has seen, McDonald, an applied learning and development and African and African diaspora studies senior, said he wants to see this program continue.

“We have seen an increase in black students over the past year, and this is more proof that having a diversity initiative is going to be beneficial to our recruitment, and if there are more funds, let’s continue to support Dr. Moore and his efforts,” McDonald said.