The University of Texas at Austin is introducing new financial aid programs that encourage four-year graduation rates among student populations who have historically been less likely to graduate in four years.
The programs, made possible by one-time university discretionary financial aid funds, are part of the university's initiative to increase four-year graduation rates to 70 percent by 2016. The additional aid, totaling $5 million, will be available to students beginning with the 2013-14 class.
"It is essential that we use discretionary aid strategically to define a class that will graduate in four years," said David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management. "Every one of these new initiatives incentivizes students to behave in ways that are consistent with four-year graduation."
These targeted programs will address four primary areas:
$2.5 million: Job Success Program
The largest of the four areas, this program will provide eligible students the opportunity to earn up to $20,000 over four years in loan forgiveness or salary in return for 15-20 hours per week of academic preparation, leadership training or work and service to the university.
The types of activities could vary, from learning effective studying techniques that could be used to mentor and tutor others, to leadership development, running a student organization, learning skills to become a programmer or working in a science laboratory.
"As students evolve in this program, they will be taking on ever increasing levels of responsibility in support of the university," Laude said.
The money will be distributed conditionally based on students' ability to stay on track to graduate in four years, maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA) and participate within the specific programs available to them.
Existing student success programs across campus, such as the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) and Gateway Scholars, will help oversee the allocation of the awards.
$500,000: Freshmen On-track Program
Another program to be introduced to the 2013-14 class will reward good freshman-year behavior. The program, which would also be administered by existing student success programs, will give students a one-time $1,000 scholarship that's awarded at the beginning of the sophomore year. The scholarship will be conditional on whether the student completed 30 credit hours, maintained a minimum GPA and completed leadership training as a freshman.
$1 million: Presidential Award Scholarship Enrichment Program
Additionally, $1 million will go toward awarding one-time $1,000 to $1,500 enrichment scholarships to recipients of Presidential Award Scholarships (PAS), which could be used for research, internships or study abroad. Recipients of PAS are generally high school scholars who have overcome a significant amount of adversity in their lives while performing at a very high academic level compared with their high school peers. PAS awards can range from $5,000 to $15,000 per year and can be awarded for up to four years the enrichment scholarship would be in addition to the amount already awarded through PAS.
$1 million: Summer Bridging Program
The final program is the summer bridging program, which will support incoming students with foundational issues and replace lost summer Pell Grant program scholarships.
The four pilot programs will be assessed after the first year to determine whether they have been successful. If proved effective, the university will explore the idea of placing conditions that are consistent with four-year graduation rates on other sources of discretionary scholarship money.
"I am hopeful this approach toward encouraging and enabling students to graduate in four years will be successful and become a cornerstone of the university's financial aid strategies moving forward," Laude said.
Just recently, University of Texas at Austin officials praised a series of recommendations for increasing college completion rates released by the national Commission on Higher Education Attainment. Many of the recommendations mirror efforts already under way at UT Austin while others will provide additional direction for campus efforts.
University President Bill Powers will host the chair of the national commission, Ohio State University President Gordon Gee, in Austin for a panel discussion on college completion and the recommendations on Feb. 11. St. Edwards University President George Martin and University of Texas at El Paso President Diana Natalicio will also participate.