UT will offer financial aid as part of graduation-rate push

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As part of an ongoing initiative to significantly increase four-year graduation rates, UT will commit $5 million to new financial aid programs, including one which provides loan forgiveness or stipends to students who undergo academic preparation programs or leadership training.

The $5 million will be divided among four programs, including the Freshmen On-track Program, which will reward roughly 900 freshmen who achieve a set minimum GPA with one-time $1,000 scholarships, and the Summer Bridging Program, which will support new students in part by replacing lost summer Pell Grant scholarships.

Half of the funding will be allocated to the Job Success Program, the largest of the four initiatives. The program will provide roughly 500 eligible students the chance to earn up to $20,000 over four years if they spend a certain number of hours each week fulfilling an assigned activity like on-campus service or specific leadership training.

Students’ eligibility for the various aid programs will hinge on financial need and factors like the likelihood that work or take out loans will be required alongside financial aid in order to attend UT. For the On-track Program, the roughly 900 participants selected will be students admitted to a freshman success program reserved for those with “significant adversity indicators.” UT spokeswoman Tara
Doolittle said examples of such factors include coming from a low-income background or being a first-generation college student. 

David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said the job success program will operate somewhat like a work-study program.

“This isn’t that much different than a student working off-campus or student work-study,” Laude said, “but in this particular case, participants [are] getting paid to make the right decisions about their academic behaviors.”

Laude said he anticipates that one of the greatest challenges he will face regarding the program will be spreading awareness about
aid availability.

“Students who financially supported themselves during high school didn’t go to their principals looking for jobs, so it might not occur to them to turn to on-campus resources now,” Laude said.

The programs will be funded by one-time university discretionary financial aid, and if it is considered a success, the University will look to other sources of discretionary scholarship money to continue offering similar incentives.

Journalism sophomore Karina Ramos, who works 15 hours a week as a cashier at Jester City Limits, said fulfilling her work-study obligations puts major constraints on her ability to study.

“I go to class, but then I come straight here, and I don’t get out until 10 at night,” Ramos said. “It gets bad. It gets stressful.”

Ramos said she would easily value a program focused on leadership or academics over her current job. 

“I’ve learned a lot about customer services here, but [the Job Success Program] would definitely be more beneficial to me and to my education,” she said. 

Management information systems sophomore April Stange, who works 10 hours each week for the economics department, said one potential drawback of the Job Success Program is that the experience would not help build a participant’s resume like a more traditional work-study does. 

“If anything, my work-study has given me a little bit of an advantage — I think it looks great on a resume,” Stange said. 

Still, given the choice, Stange said she would prefer to participate in leadership training or academic preparation programs. 

“My program is called a work-study, but no one ever really gets to study,” Strange said. “I just work.”

Printed on Thursday, February 7, 2013 as: University launches new incentive program