The University of Texas at San Antonio is following the lead of the Alamo Colleges and UT-Austin, launching a free tuition program for students who meet certain eligibility requirements.
UTSA’s Bold Promise scholarship is for low and middle income Texas residents who graduate from high school in the top 25% of their class.
It will be available starting in the fall of 2020 to students whose families earn up to $50,500 a year — a figure university officials said was based on San Antonio’s median income.
UTSA Provost Kimberly Espy said the academic requirement is the same as the university’s standard for automatic admission.
“By making college more affordable, we’re enabling more people to go,” Espy said. “We want to keep student debt as low as possible.”
Lanier High School seniors Jennifer and Adrian Uribe will be among the first students to benefit from Bold Promise. As twins with an older sister in graduate school, Adrian said it would have been difficult for his family to afford college without it.
“My mother is a caregiver while my father does landscape maintenance at a local school district,” Adrian said. “Our parents both wish for us to earn our degrees, but do not have enough money to send three of us to college.”
Vice-Provost Lynn Barnes said about 75% of UTSA’s freshmen are expected to qualify for Bold Promise next year — around 4,100 students according to university estimates.
“At this point, our modeling shows that if we continue increasing enrollment there will be enough money to cover students, so at this point we haven’t come across any numbers that cause us any pause or concern as far as a cap,” Barnes said.
Bold Promise is a last dollar scholarship that kicks in after state and federal income-based grants. UTSA’s tuition and fees costs $10,154 a year, about $4,000 more than the maximum Pell grant.
Espy and UTSA President Taylor Eighmy gave few details when asked how they planned to pay for the program, saying only that it will come from “a variety of institutional sources.”
The state constitution bars regional universities from using the Permanent University Fund, the source of UT-Austin’s free tuition program.
“We’re aware that many institutions here in Texas have adopted these plans, and I will share that our board of regents is very interested in all of the institutions within the UT System adopting this type of strategy,” Eighmy said. “We just needed to put our thinking caps on and figure out what was the best model for us to bring forward.”
Espy and Eighmy said they were exploring free tuition options for transfer students, but the Bold Promise program is only for students who enroll full time as freshmen.
About 40% of UTSA students are transfer students, and many students transfer from the Alamo Colleges, which is launching its own free tuition program, AlamoPROMISE.
“Students have a wide variety of pathways available to them, and not all of the ones are the right choice,” Espy said. “By having a number of programs that are available to our students who are at most financial need, that allows them to go to college with the right choice for them.”
“We look at this, and I’m sure Alamo (Colleges) feels the same way, as a commitment to our community, because we all live in this ecosystem. And we share the mutual goal to have as many students (as possible) pursuing higher education.”
AlamoPROMISE has a narrower geographic eligibility than Bold Promise, limited to students who graduate from traditional public schools in Bexar County, but no income or academic eligibility requirements. It also allows students to go to school part time, as long as they complete six classes a year.
Bold Promise covers tuition and fees for eight semesters at UTSA, as long as students stay enrolled full time, continue to stay below the income requirement and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.