Low-income students should get free housing

Emily Harrison, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the October 15 flipbook.

I’m a first generation college student from a low income household. When I decided to go to college, my family always told me to pick the school that gave me the most money. Thankfully, the Texas Advance Commitment allowed me to have free tuition at UT, but I’m still left with the financial insecurity of loans to pay for my housing.

The Texas Advance Commitment is a program that guarantees free tuition for students from families who make $65,000 or less per year and provides tuition support to those from families who make up to $125,000 per year.

Many times, the cost of housing is about the same as tuition, if not more, but the Texas Advance Commitment only covers the tuition of students from low-income households. How can a student be expected to pay for housing if they can’t even afford tuition? UT needs to provide free housing for students who come from low-income households.

Astronomy freshman Arnav Shah expressed his concerns about being able to pay his next housing bill.

“I almost (had to take out loans), but my parents at the last minute decided not to because it was just the first payment,” Shah said. “The first few months, they paid (out of) their own pocket, but for the next few payments, we might have to (take out loans).”

College students like Shah should not have to worry about debts. Instead, they should be able to focus on their education without the added stress from worrying if they are able to pay their bills. 

Students often aren’t taught how to take out loans or pay off debts. I know that I wasn’t, and my parents don’t have the knowledge of a stable financial history to help me. It’s scary to know that in four years I will have to somehow pay off my debt while having barely started my career.

Shah also expressed concerns over how much interest would accrue over the four years he’s in college if he chooses to take out loans.

“Just one year of loans would add up to (around) $25,000 after college,” Shah said. “After four years, that would be $100,000 just for housing.”

Annual tuition and fees for most students are about $10,800, but that’s still less than the cost of housing. Housing in the majority of dorms, even with community bathrooms, is over $12,000 per year.

Brian Dixon, associate vice provost for Student Aid and Affordability, said that many students in financial need receive enough scholarships to pay for housing. As for the students who don’t receive the extra scholarship money, Dixon says they typically do have to take out loans. 

“(Free housing) is something we’re interested in looking at,” Dixon said. “It’s about identifying funding to do that. The Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid works closely with the Development Office at the University to try to raise more money.”

It’s encouraging that the financial aid office is looking into free housing, but action needs to be taken as soon as possible to help the students who are currently struggling financially. With the large endowment UT receives, free housing should be more than affordable for the University.

“(Free housing) would relieve a (lot of) stress (from) trying to find a source for the housing payment,” Shah said. “The housing cost at UT is pretty much the same as the tuition. If I can’t afford one, how can I afford the other? It would make sense for them to cover both of them because both are equally important to go to UT.”

Because housing and tuition prices are so similar, it’s unreasonable to expect students from low-income households to be able to pay this price. UT, change needs to be made.

Harrison is a journalism freshman from Dallas, Texas.