UT: No ‘tuition promise’ on aid for family incomes under $80K

When it comes to the University of Texas System’s tally of financial aid recipients at UT-Austin and the system’s seven other academic campuses, it turns out there are students and then there are “average students.” Therein lies the rub.

Aerial view of the University of Texas campus including the UT Tower — looking southeast from the Tower, with Gregory Gym and the Erwin Center visible in the background — as seen on Sunday April 23, 2017.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It appeared, based on a chart in the Board of Regents’ agenda book and a presentation at the regents’ meeting Monday, that full-time undergraduates from Texas whose family incomes are $80,000 or less get 100 percent of tuition and fees covered by grants, scholarships or tuition waivers.

Not quite — as many students, graduates and parents said on social media after reading news reports and tweets, including by the American-Statesman, and examining the chart.

As UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler put it Tuesday when the Statesman raised questions about the data, there are “devils in the details.” The No. 1 devil is that the information regarding the $80,000-or-less income category applies to the “average student” in that category at the Austin campus, not every student in that category.

Some students receive more than 100 percent of tuition and fees in the form of a grant, scholarship or waiver — with the additional money going toward living expenes — while others receive less than 100 percent, said Meredith Goode, director of academic policy at the UT System. But averaged among all of the recipients, the aid covered tuition and fees.

“They obviously didn’t put all of the qualifying small print into the presentation,” said Joey Williams, a spokesman for UT-Austin, adding that it conveyed the impression of a tuition promise. “We don’t have a tuition promise that matches any income currently,” he said.

Officials noted that only full-time students who applied for and received financial aid are included in the calculation; some students who would otherwise qualify for aid might not have applied for it. In addition, the data are from the 2015-16 academic year, the most recent available to the UT System for all of its academic campuses.

UT-Austin, citing 2016-17 data, told the Statesman that scholarships and grants covered 100 percent of tuition and fees for more 60 percent of undergraduate students from Texas who filed the federal student aid application and whose families had adjusted gross incomes of $80,000 or less.

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