The news: A $100-million gift from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation will give an extra $20,000 in financial aid to the neediest students at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s one of the biggest gifts ever focused directly on low-income students.
But it highlights just how much more money such students need to cover the total cost of college.
Since 2004, the Dell Foundation has supported about 5,000 students through its Dell Scholars program.
The partnership announced last week with UT Austin will substantially scale up that program, giving every incoming student who is eligible for a Pell Grant a variety of support services, like financial-aid coaching, career planning, and a laptop. Those will go to roughly 2,000 students a year, according to the university. In addition, 1,200 of them — those from families with expected family contributions of $1,000 or less — will get an additional $20,000 in financial aid.
The goal: The university and foundation want to increase the graduation rate for Pell-eligible students to 90 percent. Right now it’s 73 percent — about 13 points lower than the overall rate.
This all comes on top of the announcement, back in June, that the university would use some of its oil money to expand its free-tuition guarantee. Families with incomes up to $65,000 now pay no tuition at UT Austin.
Of course, tuition is just one of the costs of going to college. (In-state tuition at Texas is about $10,300; total costs top $27,000.) That’s where the Dell money would come in. Students would get $20,000 — roughly $5,000 a year — to help pay for things like room and board, books, and transportation.
What this says about Pell Grants: It’s a reminder that they don’t go nearly as far as they once did. Back in the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant covered about half the total cost of attending a public college. The $6,195 maximum grant now covers just 28 percent.