Addressing UT students’ financial crisis

Harsh Kumar and Marlene Weis

Editor’s Note: This column was submitted to the Texan by a member of the UT community.

Opportunity — it’s something that we all deserve.

Our names are Harsh and Marlene, and we’re running to be your 2023 student body president and vice president. 

According to College Board, families that earn between $0 to $30,000 have to pay around $12,000 per year for an education at UT. Think about that for a second. At best, families that struggle to put food on the table will suddenly lose a third of their income. 

At worst, their child’s education will be unaffordable.

UT students are facing a real financial crisis, one that cannot be placated by nice words and false promises. That is why we are working on establishing a universitywide, cooperative education program. 

The “co-op” program, like that of Georgia Tech or Northeastern, has served as an instrumental door opener for many students. The program would be structured as follows: students would alternate semesters working and studying, between fall, spring and summer. For example, a sample schedule could be: 

Year 1: Fall: study, Spring: study, Summer: work,

Year 2: Fall: study, Spring: work, Summer: study,

Year 3: Fall: work, Spring: study, Summer: etc.

Of course, terms are flexible, with students sometimes taking back-to-back semesters of studying, or extending spring work terms into summer. On average, students would be earning $8,000 to $10,000 per work term, as reported by other universities. This is significantly higher than the rates at most lower-paying jobs on campus, which many low-income students are forced to take. 

Not only does this program result in superior immediate returns, but it also makes Longhorns far more employable after graduation (on average four to five years at other universities). In an economy stunted by COVID-19, entering the work force with prior experience is a major advantage — one that is sorely needed for Longhorns who graduate with an average of $20,000 in student debt.

We’ve already received interest from several Austin-area companies who are interested in partnering with us. Among these is the nongovernmental organization Knowbility, whose co-founder and executive director, Sharron Rush, said, “We are definitely interested (in the co-op program) … especially in facilitation positions for students with disabilities.” This program even exists within UT’s own Cockrell School of Engineering. It is something that our own University has already recognized, but has simply failed to expand in a way that would be inclusive to all students. 

We’re going to change that.

And it doesn’t just stop there. Because students also deserve the chance to be heard on campus, to make their voices known in spaces like Student Government, and to really push for their wants and needs. That’s why we plan on working alongside smaller organizations, so that we can push for actual, tangible change on campus.

By using SG’s public position, we will elevate the work of other organizations who are specialized in specific areas, such as campus safety or affordability. This can be done by bringing attention to these organizations’ work on SG’s public platforms, offering monetary support, and directly conveying these efforts to admin. Through this, SG fully steps into its role as an amplifier — as an organization whose job it is to be the voice of the student body. And by design, that is its duty.

We truly believe that anyone, regardless of their situation or background, deserves the opportunity to make something better for themselves — to freely pursue their goals and ambitions, unhindered by financial barriers and institutional inaccessibility.

Because ultimately, the students at this University are the people that matter. They are the voice behind Student Government — and they are the people that we’re fighting for. So let’s change campus for the better, together.

Opportunity is for everyone.

Kumar is a computer science, mathematics, & economics junior from Houston, Texas. Weis is a communications and leadership sophomore from Dallas, Texas.