We need more information

Trying to figure out your financial aid package can be incredibly frustrating — especially when you encounter mixed messages from your university. The Texas Advance Commitment, an effort undertaken by UT-Austin to better financially support its middle- and low-income students, and its various eligibility requirements have confused many students. 

When the Texas Advance Commitment, initially developed in 2018, was expanded in July 2019 with the help of a $160 million endowment created by the UT System Board of Regents, UT updated its Texas Advance Commitment website to detail the new inclusion of incoming freshmen and transfer students in the program. However, UT did not make it sufficiently clear that this new expansion was meant to make more students eligible for the program, not restrict eligibility to only freshmen and transfer students. 

UT must not only take the time to clarify the Commitment’s various eligibility requirements but also improve the way it communicates these requirements to its students. 

“The administration keeps sending a lot of vague emails about UT safety in the fall, but they haven’t even said anything about financial aid,” said Naomi Cruz Ojeda, a health and society junior. “It’s an added stress.”

University spokesperson J.B. Bird said the Commitment expansion, along with the new eligibility requirements, will be implemented for the first time this fall. Both new and current students are covered, he said. 

On the Commitment’s website, “Enrolled full-time first-time-in-college under current program and also transfer students starting fall 2020” is one of the six eligibility requirements listed. This language is, at best, ambiguous.

“It’s so confusing with all the information they put out,” international business junior John Hodge said. “They need to provide clear information that doesn’t contradict previous postings without distinctly saying that it’s an update that’s changed the protocol.”

Under the Commitment’s 2019 expansion, all current UT students with families that have adjusted gross incomes of up to $65,000 will receive full tuition coverage, while UT students with families that have adjusted gross incomes of up to $125,000 will receive what UT calls “tuition support.” The UT office of financial aid automatically determines student eligibility based on information submitted through the student’s FAFSA, said Amanda Karr, director of marketing and communications for enrollment management and student success.

The Texas Advance Commitment works in conjunction with other financial aid packages a student may receive and essentially fills the gap, Karr said. For example, if a student is slated to receive full tuition coverage under the Commitment and has already received a federal Pell grant that covers three-fourths of the student’s tuition, the Commitment will cover that last fourth. 

However, on the financial aid notification students receive, students aren’t told which funds came from the Commitment and which didn’t. 

“We realize that’s something we should address so that students, when they receive that (notification), they understand this is part of the Texas Advance Commitment,” Bird said. “We didn’t spell it out clearly.”

Many students are still waiting on their financial aid notifications for fall 2020, and, because of the lack of clear communication from UT, many are uncertain if they will be eligible to receive funds from the Commitment at all. Karr said the office of financial aid is still in the process of packaging students’ financial aid and will likely continue to notify students up until classes begin. 

Notifying students so late, though, gives them very little time to make important decisions about how they will pay for the portion of their tuition that may not be covered, in the case of students receiving tuition support, or other essentials, such as housing. 

“As soon as we start school, a few days later they expect us to have a decision on taking out loans or use our own money to pay for our schooling (and expenses),” Ojada said. “I have to be aware that I might have to pay for my tuition because I haven’t received my financial aid decision.”

We’re taking the time to explain this because UT hasn’t. From what we can tell, a lot of this information hasn’t been explicitly stated anywhere else. 

We’re student journalists. Because of what we do, we have access to more resources than regular college students do. We couldn’t figure out how the Texas Advance Commitment works without talking to UT administrators. 

We acknowledge financial aid is complicated, but UT needs to be doing more to explain how the Texas Advance Commitment and its various other financial aid resources and initiatives function. UT needs to bring its students out of the dark.