JULY 30, 2021 — Enhancing financial assistance programs and confronting racial and socioeconomic inequities are critical to addressing college affordability and student debt challenges, according to research recently released by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the TIAA Institute.
To address these and other challenges, UTSA leaders recently participated in an affordability forum as part of the APLU’s Powered by Publics Initiative.
Together, UTSA and its collaborators defined impactful ways to make college more accessible for the nation’s college students, especially for undergraduates from underrepresented and low socioeconomic communities.
“Research shows that the cost of higher education is the single greatest obstacle to pursuing a college degree,” said UTSA Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy. “One of the best ways to minimize those costs is to graduate on time. Our work with the APLU and other universities across the country is helping to identify new ways to improve college affordability and lead to greater social mobility and new economic opportunities.”
The APLU’s Powered by Publics Initiative focuses on developing data-informed approaches to increase achievement and success among under-resourced students. It convenes nearly 125 higher education institutions representing three million undergraduate students. The APLU designated UTSA and its nine collaborators as Affordability Fellows. Each institution enrolls a high number of students receiving federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to students with exceptional financial need.
The findings of the Affordability Fellows are compiled in a research brief, “Financial aid innovations for college affordability and mitigating student debt.”
Their brief highlights five innovative programs underway at the institutions: one stop centers; completion and retention grants; institutional debt forgiveness; industry partnerships; and affordable learning materials, including open educational resources. Additionally, the brief includes “Success Highlights” that provide more details on successful programs at the participating universities.
“We are hopeful that as a result of this project, our efforts to remove barriers and enhance financial well-being will continue to evolve so we can support students who dream of attending and graduating from college,” said Tammy Jordan Wyatt, UTSA vice provost for student success.
UTSA shared its Incentive & Retention Grants program as a national model addressing the financial challenges of students. Established in 2018 by the UTSA Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships and its Fiscal Services Office, UTSA’s Incentive & Retention Grants pilot program uses institutional funds to provide grants to students who have balances due and have filed emergency aid, including applications for COVID emergency relief.
The university’s goal is to assist students who have paused their education, are not making progress toward their degree and are in danger of dropping out. The UTSA One Stop Enrollment Center, which assists students with questions about financial aid, manages the program.
UTSA Senior Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Lynn Barnes Jr. says the program has prevented a significant number of students from dropping out. The university’s goal now is to further assess the program’s impact, formalize the program and institutionalize the funds. UTSA’s strategic enrollment and student success teams work hand in hand to increase UTSA’s enrollment, retention and graduation rates. Barnes and Wyatt leads these teams and together shared their findings with their APLU working group.
“When we see students who are not finished with their degree and we see that they don’t register within the registration period, that’s an alarm for us,” said Barnes in the brief, adding that registration holds are often a result of students owing money. “We are aggressively working with these students and utilizing our retention grants and incentive funds to help spur students to continue their education and to achieve their professional goals.”
Alcione Frederick, assistant director in APLU’s Center for Public University Transformation, led the association’s research. “The past year has magnified the scale of student financial need and underscored the urgency of addressing it through reform and the development of targeted, multifaceted innovations,” she said. “We know cost barriers disproportionately impact Black, Latinx, first-generation, and low-income students and that the pandemic has exacerbated these long-standing inequities.”
The groups Frederick highlighted account for a large portion of UTSA’s student population. Of the 34,742 students enrolled at UTSA in fall 2020, 57% identified as Hispanic; 8% identified as Black; and 45% will be the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Additionally, 75% of UTSA’s undergraduate students receive financial aid. Of those, 45% are Pell Grant recipients.
These figures underscore the need to make college affordability a high priority to support student success.
“Our student population is historically loan-averse and works multiple jobs so they don’t have to take out loans,” Wyatt said. “Across the nation, there is a need to develop innovative financial strategies to make college more affordable and lower student debt, especially at universities that serve large minority populations, like UTSA.”
Over the past several years, UTSA has launched initiatives to advance the education opportunities of San Antonio’s Hispanic population and other underserved communities. These programs are integral to President Taylor Eighmy’s plan to transform the institution into a model of student success.
The First to Go & Graduate program, which debuted in 2016, develops and supports an institution-wide culture that actively recognizes, encourages and supports first-generation college students, positively impacting first-generation retention and graduation rates.
In 2017, UTSA launched the Resilience and Retention Advising Program, which utilizes intentional, proactive advising practices with students who are high risk of dropping out of college.
The Classroom to Career Initiative, which debuted in 2018, is focused on providing more UTSA students with experiential learning opportunities, such as internships, service learning, undergraduate research and study-abroad programs. With its goal of identifying partnerships, Classroom to Career could be key to UTSA’s work to forge new relationships with local industry players who could help finance students’ education.
In fall 2020, UTSA welcomed its inaugural cohort of students from the Bold Promise Program. The groundbreaking program covers 100% of a first-time freshman’s tuition and fees for four years.
“Innovative financial aid policies and practices are making a tremendous difference in closing the higher education affordability gap,” said Anne Ollen, managing director of the TIAA Institute. She notes that the APLU’s broad research initiative “helped to shine a light on the essential work of college and university financial aid and student affairs professionals, among others who focus on helping students manage the costs of getting to and through degree completion. We need to increase awareness and keep the momentum going.”
The new research expands upon previous briefs examining college affordability landscape and equitable financial innovations, as well as an examination of the disbursement on emergency aid made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Rounding out the Powered by Publics Affordability Fellows were Cleveland State University, Rutgers University-Newark, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Louisville, the University of North Texas, Virginia Commonwealth University, Wayne State University and West Virginia University.
Join the Hispanic Student Association as we play a game of Mexican Loteria.Aspen Heights Club House, 12839 Berthoud Ln, San Antonio, TX 78249
Come to Bandera Market to celebrate national Hispanic Heritage Month with Hispanic vendors from a variety of countries. Free entry.Bandera Pointe Shopping Center,11627 Bandera Road
The College for Health, Community and Policy at UTSA is proud to present the Dean's Community Lecture Series, a series of events bringing community leaders from San Antonio and beyond to foster the natural leadership abilities of students while discussing critical topics in our community.Virtual Event
A video on Instagram Live (@UTSA_MSCEJ) of Chef Jesse Moreno-Valle from Aramark creating a couple of great dishes: sopa negra (black bean soup) al estilo Costa Rica y güirilas (a crepe style item made with corn and a cheese filling) from Nicaragua.Virtual Event
Visit the library to learn how to make your own Worry Dolls. Pick up a supply packet to make at the library or to take home. Worry dolls (also called trouble dolls; in Spanish, Muñeca quitapena) are small, hand-made dolls that originate from Guatemala.San Antonio Public Library, 9050 Wellwood, San Antonio, Texas 78250
For Hispanic Heritage Month this year we will be reading two books, starting in September with "I, Rigoberta Menchú", an autobiography. The October book will be "Cemetery Boys" by Aiden Thomas. Students who join the RJBC are eligible to receive the book free.Virtual Event
Dueling Tacos are on the menu for Noon Time Helping of Mexican cuisine in San Antonio Public Library's Virtual Kitchen! Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in style and discover new taco ideas!Virtual Event
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.
UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.
The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.