Expand financial aid for first-gen students

Lucero Ponce, Senior Columnist

Leaving home and going to college is a difficult transition for everyone, but it can be especially stressful for first-generation students. They are expected to set an example for their family by being the first to receive a higher education, adding constant pressure. On top of the emotional stress, many students also face financial barriers that make it difficult to completely focus on their education.

To help alleviate this stress, the University should provide more scholarships or grants to first-generation students. 

“So as a first-gen student, … my parents can’t help me with rent. They can’t help me with school. They can’t help me with doctor’s (appointments),” Imanol Murguia Vazquez, a psychology and government freshman, said. “So a lot of these first-gen struggles are education, but also living life, I guess.”

First-gen students’ families may have a lower income compared to students whose parents received a higher education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the median family income for first generation freshmen was around $60,000 lower than continuing generation freshmen. 

“Coming as a first-generation student is already a big thing…my parents are immigrants. They didn’t have much money in Mexico,” government sophomore Dulce Alonso said. “They came here hoping that they would be better off economically, and they are, but they’re also not relatively better off like other people per se.”

Without significant financial support from their families, first-generation students often seek out loans in order to pay off their remaining balances. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, 65% of first generation students owed at least $25,000 in student loans. The University should provide more financial aid, besides loans, in order to decrease their student debt. 

While UT does cover tuition for students with an income of up to $65,000, students still have to worry about their living expenses. They have to find suitable housing within their budget and save money for food and transportation. 

“The free tuition that UT gave me was really good and allowed me to come here, but the housing was really difficult for (my family) because, I mean, Austin is really expensive.” Alonso said.  “And that doesn’t include expenses such as car, gas or buying groceries (and) food. It was a lot of money for us. I feel like if I had more (scholarships and grants) from UT that went to housing and living expenses, it would just be so much easier.”

The University currently does have initiatives to help first-generation students, but they should do more by expanding the availability of scholarships and grants specifically for first-generation students.

“The University is always reviewing and assessing our reward programs to look at what additional support we can provide our first-generation students,” university spokesperson Kathleen Harrison said. “In addition, there are future opportunities to expand awards through the current Capital Campaign where additional resources could be applied to assist first-generation students at UT Austin.”

Although it is reassuring that the University is taking steps to help first-generation students, they should take initiative quickly to help more students. Considering UT’s large endowment, the University should be able to assist students in need now. First-generation students should not have to worry about these added expenses when they are trying to receive an education.

First-generation students are breaking barriers for their families, and UT should help them overcome any financial barriers.

Ponce is a journalism freshman from Laredo, Texas.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this column stated that UT covers tuition for students with an income of up to $60,000. The column has been updated to reflect the correct number as $65,000. The Texan regrets this error.