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As Texas college students struggle with affordability, UT-Austin launches program to offset on-campus housing costs

By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune

As Texas college students struggle with affordability, UT-Austin launches program to offset on-campus housing costs” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The University of Texas at Austin is launching a pilot program to help low- and middle- income students pay for on-campus housing costs, part of a larger strategy to help students overcome the ballooning cost of attending college beyond tuition and fees.

The program targets students who qualify for UT-Austin’s Texas Advance Commitment, which provides free or reduced tuition to students whose families make under $125,000 per year. The university is setting aside $5.8 million to cover the cost of the housing pilot, and depending on family income, about 3,500 students will receive $900 or $1,800 to subsidize the cost of on-campus housing in the next school year.

UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell said the university has made progress in reducing the cost of tuition, even eliminating it for some students, and now is trying to help them overcome the “more acute financial barrier” of rising housing costs.

But the program’s stipend won’t come close to covering the cost of the university’s on-campus housing rates, which range from $12,729 to $21,294 for the 2022-23 academic year, according to the university’s website. These costs include meal plans.

Many colleges across the country have experienced increased demand for on-campus housing as some students yearn for a full college experience after the COVID-19 pandemic and others seek a more affordable option amid skyrocketing housing and rent costs.

But in some cases, such as at UT-Austin, the cost of housing is higher than tuition. According to the university, the average cost of tuition for a first-year student is $11,758 while average cost of on-campus room and board is $13,058.

In Austin, rising housing costs have forced many low-income students to seek out cheaper housing in areas farther from campus. That prompted UT-Austin to purchase a private building on campus and turn it into a 778-bed residence hall. The university is also building a 784-bed residence hall for graduate students.

UT-Austin officials say they hope the new program will encourage students, particularly low-income and first-generation students, to live on campus. Students who live on university grounds have better access to services, which makes it more likely for them to graduate.

The university said it typically sets housing rates at or below the local market average and expects them to increase next year, but less so than in recent years. Combined with the new program, UT-Austin said it expects eligible students will pay less for on-campus housing this upcoming school year.

Other Texas universities offer housing scholarships but on a smaller scale than UT-Austin’s plan. In Lubbock, Texas Tech University offers multiple housing scholarships to students, adding up to $500,000 per year. Texas State University offers a few small scholarships to students that cover less than $1,000 in housing each year.

Disclosure: Texas Tech University and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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