Check your biases at the door about UT’s PACE program

Maria Sailale

UT is well known for its automatic admissions policy. Thousands of talented and high-achieving students have earned their spot at the prestigious University in this way. 

However, in light of a growing and increasingly competitive pool of applicants in recent years, the University has been forced to turn more and more qualified applicants away. To address this issue, UT offers the Path to Admission through Co-Enrollment program to a select number of students as a way to offer more high-achieving students a chance at enrollment. Despite its overall success, however, some students unfortunately find themselves questioning their status as UT students once admitted through Co-Enrollment program.

Students are enrolled at both Austin Community College and UT for a minimum requirement of 24 hours and six hours respectively per year. The program, more frequently referred to as PACE, lasts the duration of the first year, after which students are offered automatic admission to approved majors. Despite their co-enrollment at two campuses, UT clarifies on the program website that they are UT students from day one. This indicates the unique position of students enrolled in the program.

“Students in the PACE program are conditionally admitted to UT Austin during their time in the program,” said Jasmine Rose Schmitt, PACE’s student program coordinator. “Upon successful completion of program requirements, they transition to full-time admission status.”

While students in the program are restricted in the number of classes they can take at UT during their first year, perhaps their ability to live in on-campus housing, join organizations and participate in nearly every aspect of campus life serves as evidence of their stake in the Forty Acres.

Even though PACE offers students unique advantages, including smaller classes and a dedicated team of mentors and advisers, because of its small size and its relative newness, most students are unaware it exists.

Some are merely misinformed, and in both cases, students sometimes find themselves justifying their status as UT students to their peers. Students sometimes associate a stigma with the program or feel as if their participation in it is a taboo topic because they weren’t admitted in the same way as the majority of their peers. 

“Initially, I was apprehensive to admit to people that I’m in PACE,” said Dina Gaye, a first year undeclared PACE student. “I felt embarrassed that I was not admitted as a full UT student, especially because this program isn’t common among other universities.”

The program serves an important role in expanding UT’s commitment to offering a quality education to as many talented students as possible. Students should not feel as if they are stuck in limbo — they should feel supported by their peers.

“During the first few weeks of school I struggled with defining my status as a college student,” said Catherine Gavin, a first year undeclared student in the program. “I felt uncomfortable explaining to people that had not heard of PACE that I was enrolled in two institutions.”

No UT student should be made to question their right to claim this campus as their own. We should do better to check our harmful assumptions and redirect our efforts instead to celebrating our contributions. This would help assure students that they are a valuable addition to the community. After all, we all graduate with the same diploma.

Sailale is an undeclared PACE freshman from Dallas.