In a move that should double the number of students receiving free tuition at University of Texas at Austin, the Board of Regents announced Tuesday students whose families earn $65,000 per year or less will qualify for a free ride.
The move, to begin in the 2020 school year, more than doubles UT Austin's prior household income limit of $30,000 for free tuition.
Paula Staples, a single mother of four in Palestine, told the Herald-Press Wednesday the program will provide opportunities for her 13-year-old son that his older siblings didn't have.
“It's good to know that, no matter what happens with my business, A.J. Is going to have some options,” Staples said.
In a unanimous vote, the University of Texas System Board of Trustees moved $160 million from the state's Permanent University Fund, an endowment for the UT and Texas A&M systems, to UT Austin's financial aid program for low and middle-income students.
The Permanent University Endowment began in 1876, when the state reserved more than 1 million acres in West Texas for the development of the UT and Texas A&M University systems.
The value of the fund shot up with the discovery of oil and use of hydraulic fracturing. The land is now worth more than $20 billion.
The move one-ups Texas A&M, which since 2011 has offered free tuition to students from families that earn $60,000 or less.
The cost of tuition and fees at UT Austin is more than $10,000 per year; the median household income in Texas is roughly $59,000.
Staples, 52, who owns and operates Staples Insurance Agency in Palestine, said her daughter, Sloane Cox, 20, is considering the military-to-college option. Her youngest son, Alexander 'A.J.' Sierra, Jr., is already thinking about college at 13.
“My oldest, Eric Smith, joined the Air Force to help him afford college,” Staples said. “He's still in after 12 years, and has earned his master's degree – but he originally joined because we couldn't afford to send him to school.”
Although tuition and fees are covered by the program, housing, books, and essentials, which can double the cost of college, are not.
Staples said she wishes the program was around when she was a teenager.
“One of a mother's dreams is to see her children succeed,” she said. “You want your children to succeed at the things you haven't.”
UT Austin President Greg Fenves called college affordability one of the most critical issues facing all Texans, and the endowment “will go a long way toward making our university affordable for talented Texas students from every background and region."