The pot of money the University of Texas System is using to offer free tuition to low and middle income families at UT Austin isn’t available to other UT schools.
According to university officials, the Permanent University Fund can only be used for operating expenses at UT’s flagship school. Regional universities like UTSA can only use the fund for land, buildings and materials.
The state constitution allows the Permanent University Fund to be used for the “support and maintenance” of Texas A&M, Prairie View A&M, UT Austin and the Texas A&M and UT Systems administrations, but other universities in the A&M and UT Systems only have access to the fund to pay off “bonds and notes” for capital improvements.
During a break from classes Thursday at UTSA, Junior Andrew Hernandez said he doesn’t think it’s fair the new tuition assistance program is only offered in Austin.
“A lot of people can’t afford to pay for college,” Hernandez said. “Kids would do better if it was a possibility everywhere.”
He said he would qualify for free tuition at Austin because his family makes less than $65,000 a year, but he likes the physics research program at UTSA and wouldn’t want to leave it.
“People who are barely going to college should take that if they can, but I’m already here,” Hernandez said. “It’s my third year, so changing would be a lot of trouble. And I have a scholarship here too, so I don’t want to lose that.”
By the time he graduates, Hernandez said he expects to have taken out $30,000 in student loans.
“I think all the universities should look into it because it’s really helpful,” said Pamela Davila, a freshman from El Paso. “There are a lot of students whose families can’t afford tuition, but they’re really smart.”
Davila said she was already considering transferring to UT Austin, and knowing she would qualify for free tuition makes her want to transfer even more.
Freshman Destiny Muckelroy said she would appreciate the partial tuition assistance she would qualify for, since her family makes less than $125,000 a year. But she likes the nursing program at UTSA and wouldn’t want to leave.
“Every single family needs help in some type of way because college is expensive,” Muckelroy said. “Maybe UT Austin can be helpful to other universities on how to start it. It can only progress from here.”
Dominic Muniz from San Antonio would also qualify for partial tuition assistance in Austin. But he said having to pay for living expenses in Austin would make it more expensive even with the help.
“I’m not living on campus because I live, like, down the street from here, so I don’t need that much (student loans). But if I was, I would need to take out more,” Muniz said.
It’s unclear whether or not UTSA and the UT System are considering ways to offer free tuition to lower income families at other universities.
In an email to TPR, UT System Chancellor James Milliken wrote, “College affordability is key to both access and completion, which are among our highest priorities. We will continue to pursue opportunities to ensure that a high quality education at all UT System institutions is available to Texans, regardless of financial circumstances.”
No UTSA or UT System employees were made available to answer questions.
The amount of money in the Permanent University Fund has ballooned to over $20 billion in recent years due to oil and gas revenue.
The Texas A&M and UT Systems have access to up to 7% of the fund each year.
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille