As Texas boosts financial aid, here’s how NC schools try to keep college affordable

The University of Texas flagship campus announced an ambitious plan this week to double the number of its students who will get a free ride at the university. The school will cover full tuition for any student whose family income totals $65,000 or less, beginning in fall 2020.

It’s the latest step toward making college more accessible and affordable, which University of North Carolina system schools also are working on.

The $160 million for the Texas initiative comes from a $22.3 billion endowment for UT and Texas A&M systems. The UNC system isn’t close to matching that kind of endowment.

Here’s what some North Carolina schools are doing to help students afford college.

UNC-Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill has been running a program similar to UT, Carolina Covenant, for 15 years that helps low-income students graduate debt-free. Undergraduate students with a family income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, which is about $48,500 for a family of four, are eligible.

Students’ tuition is covered through grants, scholarships and money earned through a work-study job. Those part-time jobs are available on campus or in the Chapel Hill community. Students are also given access to academic and personal support to help them navigate college and graduate on time.

The program serves 1 in 10 UNC undergraduates, and 14 percent of new UNC students are Covenant Scholars.

For the 2019-20 school year, the cost of tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students is $8,980 for North Carolina residents and $36,159 for out-of-state residents.

NC State

NC State University created a program called Pack Promise, which helps low-income students meet their financial needs. It guarantees that qualifying students will receive 100 percent of their financial aid, plus academic support.

For the 2019-20 school year, the cost of tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students is $9,100 for North Carolina residents and $29,220 for out-of-state residents.

NC State also offers the Goodnight scholarship for students pursuing STEM majors who are from low- and middle-income families from North Carolina. The student’s household income must be below $100,000 to earn the scholarship.

Duke University

Duke University’s financial aid package is designed to allow all admitted students to enroll and complete their degree regardless of their household income.

Duke, which is a private institution with a $58,198 cost of tuition and fees, will meet a student’s full-demonstrated financial need. More than 50 percent of Duke students don’t pay the full cost.

First-year students must pay a minimum of $2,600 per year, regardless of income, but that cost can be covered by a work-study job offered as part of the financial aid package. Parents of families with a total annual income of $60,000 or less will not have to contribute any money to their child’s education.

“The sticker price of a place like Duke can sometimes scare off students,” said Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld. But, “it can be much less expensive than a comparable public institution that might have a lower sticker price but not the robust resources available.”

Duke also has a program specifically targeted at first-generation students called Rubenstein Scholars. It covers a student’s full financial need and offers support programs, summer internships, mentors and a laptop. About 60 students per year are Rubenstein Scholars.

“These programs are aimed at students who otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to come to Duke,” Schoenfeld said.

Schoenfeld said identifying, recruiting and then supporting first generation and low-income students has been a priority for Duke for many years and simply funneling money to cover tuition is only part of the solution.

The NC Promise schools

In 2018, three UNC system schools significantly reduced tuition for North Carolina students to attend a four-year university, after a $51 million state investment.

Through the NC Promise program, undergraduate students at Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University will pay $1,000 a year for in-state tuition and $5,000 a year for out-of-state. This does not include student fees.

The goal was to make these three schools accessible to North Carolinians who live within 150 miles of the three campuses, according to the UNC System.

“This is really about building a college-going culture in North Carolina,” UNC System spokesman Jason Tyson said. “This is our program that we’re hoping has long-term positive results.”

Tyson said NC Promise schools are breaking down the barriers, whether geographical or financial, that may have prevented students from going to college previously.

Fixed tuition

Also in an effort to combat rising student debt, all UNC System universities have fixed tuition rates for students who enroll starting in 2018. The cost of tuition will be the same for 8 semesters for all residents who are bachelor’s degree-seeking freshmen. Student fees can rise each year, however.

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