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Student Success

UT Austin-Dell Program to Push Pell Grad Rates to 90 Percent

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The University of Texas at Austin has set a new mission targeting Pell-eligible students: to raise their six-year graduation rate from 73 percent to 90 percent. That's higher than the university's current overall graduation rate of 86 percent for all students. The project is being supported by a 10-year, $100 million donation from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and will incorporate practices from the foundation's national Dell Scholars program. Federal Pell grants are given to students from low-income families; more than two-thirds of those families have annual incomes of $30,000 or less.

According to the foundation, the Dell Scholars program has pushed the six-year graduation rate for low-income students — which hovers around 20 percent nationally — to four times that size: 80 percent. Since the program started in 2004, 5,000 students have gone through it, with more than 2,400 graduating. The Dell Scholars at UT Austin initiative will scale up the work being done there.

The university already guarantees financial help for low- and middle-income students through its Texas Advance Commitment, which guarantees aid to cover the cost of tuition and fees for Texas families earning $65,000 or less each year. This program will build on top of that support.

Beginning next fall, incoming Pell freshmen from families with the most need will become part of the Dell Scholars program. Each will receive an award of $20,000 to spend during his or her college career on tuition, fees, room and board, transportation, supplies, study abroad or other expenses. For Texas residents, that funding will be in addition to the Texas Advance Commitment.

Participants will also get tailored help beyond the monetary, including:

  • Mentoring;
  • Financial aid coaching and financial literacy training;
  • Tutoring and textbook support;
  • Peer advising support;
  • Internship and career planning;
  • Connections to university resources and programming;
  • On-track graduation planning; and
  • A laptop computer.

Once the student is in, he or she will stay in — as long as he or she maintains full-time enrollment, remains in good standing and completes a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year.

"A college education has the power to change the life of a student and the future of their family and community," said UT Austin President Gregory Fenves, in a statement. "As a result of our groundbreaking partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, The University of Texas at Austin is poised to increase opportunities for thousands of talented students whose potential to achieve will be met with unprecedented commitment, resources and support."

"It's easy to assume that it's money that keeps students from graduating from college," added Janet Mountain, executive director of the foundation. "We know that it's often other personal challenges — challenges that are mostly solvable with the right support at the right time — that derail students from achieving a degree."

While the program will begin this fall, it will add new classes of first-time college students with each passing year. For its part, UT Austin has said that it will raise the funds necessary to keep those services going after the first decade, with the intention of integrating the programming into its Student Success work beyond 2030.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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