At UT, Free Tuition Doesn't Mean a Free Ride — and That's Not All Bad

It’s true that not every kid has to go to college to be successful in this society. We also know that a college degree vastly improves the chances of bettering lives, but thousands of students simply can’t afford to go without racking up crippling debt.So when the flagship campus of the University of Texas at Austin joined other universities in extending free tuition to middle-income families over the past week, there was cause for celebration. We saw it as an important further acknowledgement that the soaring cost of college is a problem not just for the poor.And if this state is going to keep its economic engine ignited, it must produce more well-educated workers. Studies show college graduates earn twice as much as workers with only a high school diploma. But in Dallas County, less than a third of public school graduates will complete college within six years.Universities have to do more to help.UT has promised to do its part. Starting in fall 2020, it will cover full tuition for any in-state (including transfers) undergraduate student whose family income totals $65,000 or less. The old marker had been $30,000.Regents smartly voted to use $160 million from the state’s Permanent University Fund — a state endowment for UT and Texas A&M from oil and gas revenue — for the assistance program. A&M has provided free tuition to students from families with income of $60,000 or less since 2011. At UT, it means the number of students getting free tuition will double. The university estimates 8,600 students — about a quarter of its undergraduate students — will get a break on an average of $10,314 a year in tuition and fees.We like that the allocation will create an endowment in which the money is invested and interest and earnings are used to fund the tuition costs in perpetuity.UT President Greg Fenves told us recently that one of his major goals is to continue to attract talented and diverse students to his campus. This move is a big step toward accomplishing that.  Continue reading...

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