UTRGV announces tuition break for qualified undergrads

University of Texas-Rio Grande officials announced Monday that the UTRGV Tuition Advantage grant program will allow eligible students to attend the institution at no cost starting in the fall of 2020.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Qualifying undergraduate students with adjusted gross family income of $75,000 or less will be able to attend the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley at no cost thanks to the UTRGV Tuition Advantage grant program, announced Monday by UTRGV President Guy Bailey.

Starting with the fall 2020 semester, incoming first-time freshmen with a minimum 19 ACT score or 1010 SAT score, or who are in the top 10 percent of their high school class, have been admitted to UTRGV and completed their financial aid application by March 1, and who are enrolled in at least 15 credit hours will pay no tuition or mandatory fees.

Only Texas residents are eligible for the program, which also applies to returning UTRGV students, who must have at least a 2.5 GPA, and new transfer students, who need at least a 2.5 overall GPA. Aside from academic measures, the same eligibility criteria pertains to freshmen, returning and transfer students.

UTRGV described the free-tuition program as the most expansive among the state’s public higher education institutions.

UT Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife said in a statement that the inability to afford college, by itself, shouldn’t prevent someone from attending a UT institution.

“The regents are committed to minimizing the financial barriers, and we are exceptionally pleased with UTRGV’s new tuition assistance program and the impact it will have on making access and affordability much easier for students and their families,” he said.

In August, Money.com ranked UTRGV the state’s third-best public university, after Texas A&M and UT-Austin, respectively, in terms of quality of education, affordability and outcomes. Also, Washington Monthly recently ranked UTRGV the best public university for value nationally as well as naming it a Top 20 Master’s University.

UTRGV estimated that more than half of its undergraduate students for the 2020-2021 academic year will not pay tuition and mandatory fees. Maggie Hinojosa, the university’s vice president for strategic enrollment, said that estimate partly takes into account students who will be taking advantage of the new tuition program.

“Currently we’re a little bit under 50 percent,” she said.

Still, Hinojosa said she wasn’t able to give a closer estimate on how many students will be taking advantage of the program, though she hopes the response will be robust. Admissions applications are just starting to trickle in, and the financial aid (FAFSA/TAFSA) application period opens Oct. 1, she said.

“I haven’t done a projection on that yet,” Hinojosa said. “I need to see some numbers first.”

She said it’s unlikely UTRGV will need more staff to handle the additional enrollment, and whether or not more faculty is needed will become clear later. Hinojosa explained how the free-tuition program was made possible, by finding a way to make up for the tuition that will be lost as a result.

“We are required by law to set aside a percentage of our tuition for programs,” she said. “What we’ve done is we’ve gone back in to look at what we call tuition set-aside dollars, and to see how we can reorganize those funds, and that’s how we came up with those funds. … It’s all in how you allocate the funds and how you leverage those funds.”

Besides helping students, the program helps the university by increasing enrollment, Hinojosa said.

“We’re always trying to build enrollment,” she said. “We’ve gone through enrollment increases the past several years and we want to continue that. But in the end it’s to make sure we provide a quality education to students at an affordable price. … This is exciting — extremely exciting.”

“The UT System is committed to increasing access and student success at all of our institutions, and we applaud UTRGV for launching this extraordinary program to make a high-quality college education more accessible and affordable for all,” said UT System Chancellor James Milliken.