UT’s promise to appropriate $15 million in financial aid for middle-income families will expand this year to include low-income families, UT President Gregory Fenves said during the annual State of the University Address on Tuesday.
Fenves announced the addition as a part of a year-long goal to improve upward mobility for students. The funds for the increased financial aid will come from a recurring Available University Fund received from the UT Board of Regents.
“When a student comes to UT, they do get a life-changing education that dramatically improves their future — but therein lies a problem,” Fenves said during the speech. “You have to get here first. You need access to achieve success.”
Citing a 2016 study, Fenves said the amount of children earning more than their parents has fallen from 90 percent in 1940 to 50 percent today. Fenves said for UT graduates, the numbers are less bleak; nearly half of the students who graduated in the early 2000s that came from families in the lowest income percentile are now earning at least twice the amount their families earned.
“From a policy perspective, this is the definition of upward mobility,” Fenves said.
In 1999, the percent of undergraduates to graduate in four years was around 40 percent, Fenves said. In the most recent numbers from 2016, the four-year graduation rate was more than 60 percent.
Fenves said reducing the amount of time it takes for a student to graduate lessens the cost of education and allows the school to increase the number of students it accepts every fall. He said the University admitted 1,000 more freshman this year than it did six years ago.
Economics junior Thibault Sharma said expanding the financial aid promise to include lower-income families is a positive step taken by the University.
“A lot of lower-income people don’t have opportunities to go to college,” Sharma said. “The more chances they get to go to UT, which is one of the best public schools in the nation, the better.”
Computer science sophomore Nicole Currens comes from a middle-class family, and said she supports the move to increase financial aid for lower-income families and understands the difficulty of paying for a college education.
“Generally, I think it’s harder for lower-income students to pay for college,” Currens said. “I know that without a lot of my family’s support and a lot of help from financial aid, it would be really difficult for me to pay for college.”
In addition to supplying increased financial aid for middle-income and low-income families, Fenves said the University will invest further in faculty through increased funding for recruitment and retention of faculty, as well as through additional merit raises for staff.
Fenves said expanding resources for faculty may limit spending in other areas. The affected areas will remain undetermined until the President presents a detailed funding plan to the Board of Regents later this fall, said UT spokesman J.B. Bird.
“We must invest in faculty,” Fenves said. “Our purpose as a research university can only be fulfilled by having the best faculty to drive education and discovery.”