A&M-San Antonio launches free tuition program for families that make $70,000 or less
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Texas A&M University-San Antonio is expanding access to its free tuition Promise program to include more students that might not be able to afford college without it.
Starting next fall, Jaguar Promise will offer free tuition and fees, plus a book stipend, to Texas residents with a family income of up to $70,000 a year. To qualify for the income-based scholarship, students also need to either be in the top 35% of their high school class or transfer in with at least 60 hours of college credit.
A&M-San Antonio’s current Promise program, Achiever Promise, covers tuition for students in the top 10% of their high school class regardless of how much money their family makes. Students that graduate from early college high schools with at least 30 hours of college credit are also eligible.
Going forward, students that would previously have qualified for Achiever Promise will become part of Jaguar Promise instead. Jaguar Promise covers both tuition and fees and also includes $300 a semester for books.
“The Promise program is about clearing a pathway to success for as many Texans as possible who never thought that a college education was financially within their reach,” said Salvador Ochoa, the university’s new president, during a news conference Tuesday announcing the expansion.
“All too often, as I saw growing up, students don't even make it here at all or don't make it to the finish line, not because they lack the will, the talent or the ability, but because they lack the resources.”
Ochoa is a Rio Grande Valley native and a graduate of McAllen ISD. He took the helm as president of A&M-San Antonio in August.
“This new Jaguar Promise opportunity is truly, truly changing lives,” said Harlandale High School senior Sebastian Hernandez. “It is an opportunity for myself, as well as thousands of other students, to really not have to worry about the financial cost of education.”
Hernandez said he’s currently juggling cross country, working at his neighborhood’s Bill Miller restaurant, and trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA. His older sister is in college and warned him how much it costs.
“[Jaguar Promise] is more than simply a scholarship,” Hernandez said. “It is a way for students to achieve their potential and work towards their future.”
Now that the Promise program will be available for transfer students, Northwest Vista College student Tresjure Cross Mills said she plans to take advantage of it.
“The new Promise program makes attending Texas A&M University San Antonio a reality for me,” said Cross Mills. “It's like A&M San Antonio saying, 'We got your back.’”
Before she found out about Jaguar Promise, Cross Mills said she thought she would be out of options for continuing her education once she completed her associate’s degree.
The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Promise program is now open to transfer students, but eligibility is limited to students who were previously part of AlamoPROMISE, the Alamo Colleges’ Promise program. AlamoPROMISE is for recent Bexar County high school graduates, and Cross Mills started college later in life.
Ochoa said students who want to take advantage of the Jaguar Promise transfer option can transfer from any community college. They don’t have to transfer from Alamo Colleges, but they do have to be Texas residents.
With the addition of the book stipend and the expansion of eligibility to anyone in the top 35% of their class, A&M-San Antonio’s Promise program is now one of the most comprehensive in the city.
AlamoPROMISE has no income or class rank requirements, but it does require students to enroll the same year they graduate from high school, and limits eligibility to students who graduate from a Bexar County school. Alamo Colleges also provides free textbook rentals as part of its tuition and fees.
Like Jaguar Promise, UTSA’s Bold Promise is open to Texas residents with a family income of up to $70,000 a year, but eligibility is limited to the top 25% of the high school class, and students must enroll within a year and a half of graduating high school.
A&M-San Antonio officials said they chose to include students in the top 35% of their class because they wanted to increase access as much as possible while keeping in mind how much the university could afford.
“Not every student can devote 100% (to high school), especially our students in South San Antonio, who really work and start early,” Ochoa said. “And we want them to know that they can do everything they want to achieve. But we feel that 35% is a real indication that they've made a commitment to their education.”
Jesse Pisors, vice president of university relations and advancement, said if a student graduates in the top third of their class they’ve shown they have what it takes to succeed in college.
“That's why we felt it was important to include the entire top 35%,” Pisors said. “And if you're in the top 10%, there is no income ceiling. So, you still have a great opportunity if you're an (academically) high-achieving high school student.”
Pisors said the $70,000 income threshold for students in the top 11% to 35% will include most of A&M-San Antonio’s students.
“If we could have afforded to make that higher, we would have made it higher. But $70,000 will include a lot of lower middle, middle income families who really just kind of fall in the gap of being able to afford college,” Pisor said.
Like most Promise programs, Jaguar Promise is a last-dollar scholarship. That means the university pays for whatever isn’t covered by state and federal grants or other scholarships.
Brandy McLelland, A&M-San Antonio’s vice president of enrollment management, said funding for Jaguar Promise comes from a variety of sources, including federal, state and philanthropy.
“The last couple of years, the federal government has expanded their Pell program for students and other federal aid programs. And this is really important for us, as almost 80% of our undergraduate students have some sort of federal financial aid,” McLelland said. “The state has also increased its aid for students and devoted more funding to public higher ed, especially during this last legislative session.”
In order to qualify for Jaguar Promise, students will also have to enroll full time. Many A&M-San Antonio students attend part time so they can work to support themselves and take care of their families. However, Ochoa said he wants to insure students are making steady progress towards completing their degree.
“We believe that if we remove the financial barriers that will enable them to come full time,” Ochoa said. “Many times, when students do not have those financial resources, the journey is much longer and there's a greater probability that other things in life will happen that they won't finish.”
To make sure students have the support they need to focus on classes while they’re at A&M-San Antonio, Ochoa said an audit of the university’s wraparound support programs will be completed this year.