UT to provide free tuition to families earning up to $65,000

Nicole Stuessy

Starting in the fall of 2020, in-state undergraduate students who come from families with yearly incomes of up to $65,000 will see their tuition and fees paid for in full by a new University endowment. 

On Tuesday, Chairman Kevin Eltife, Chancellor James Milliken and the UT System Board of Regents voted unanimously to create the $160 million endowment, which will be funded by the state’s Permanent University Fund.

“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,” Eltife said after the vote. “This will benefit students of our great state for years to come.”

With the endowment, UT President Gregory Fenves said the University will be able to provide full tuition coverage to more than 8,600 undergraduate students and tuition support to an additional 5,700 students.

According to a press release, the Permanent University Fund “includes money from oil and gas royalties earned on state-owned land in West Texas.”

The endowment will also provide tuition assistance to in-state undergraduate and transfer students who have financial need and come from families that earn up to $125,000. Graduate students will not be included in this endowment. 

“(Financial aid) will be for all eligible students, not just the first-time students in fall 2020,” Fenves said after the vote. “We are expanding it to transfer students that have not been part of the Texas Advance Commitment up to this point.”

In 2018, Fenves launched the Texas Advance Commitment, a program that provides full tuition assistance for families earning up to $30,000 a year and aid to families earning up to $100,000. Over 4,000 students were supported in its first year.

“We have worked to increase financial aid over the past three years,” Fenves said. “We've added well over $12 million of financial aid for undergrad students, but it wasn't enough to meet that need.”

Fenves said they determined the $65,000 threshold for eligibility by looking at government requirements to receive the Pell Grant and the median Texas household income.

“We wanted to have a program that would encompass more than half of families in Texas that are at or slightly above (the median Texas household income),” Fenves said.

While other state universities such as Texas A&M and the University of Michigan have implemented similar financial aid efforts, Fenves said UT’s endowment is the first of its kind.

“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. “We think we're impacting more students through this program than other universities.”