AUSTIN — Austin Community College District (ACC) is considering piloting a new program to make college tuition free for all high school seniors in Central Texas.
On Monday, Jan. 8, ACC Chancellor Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart presented the new proposal and, if approved, it would start this fall and cover the cost of tuition for all high school seniors in the service area who graduate in 2024, with the goal of scaling the program to offer free tuition for everyone.
“This will be a really powerful project for ACC and our community,” said Dr. Lowery-Hart in a news release. “Students have told us the affordability of college and the subsequent debt they could incur is keeping them away.”
Regional data shows approximately 12,000 seniors in Central Texas did not attend any type of higher education in Texas after graduating high school last year, the release stated.
“I think this is the first conversation to our end goal of making college something for everyone. ACC can be a national model. We have the resources and innovation to do something magical,” Dr. Lowery-Hart said. “Our proposal covers the cost of tuition so that financial aid and scholarship dollars can go further and help students pay for their living expenses. That is a game changer.”
The proposal is a “first dollar” program, meaning the funds from ACC would be the first dollars a student would receive to help cover the costs of college. Students could still apply for Pell grants, financial aid and scholarships to get additional financial support to help cover other expenses like housing, child care, textbooks and more.
The following is included in the proposed program:
• Fund $85 per credit hour for up to 3 years
• $67 resident tuition
• $15 general fee
• $2 success fee
• $1 sustainability fee
Out-of-district fee, non-residents/international students, any course or program specific fees and textbooks are not included.
Under the program, all high school seniors in the service area who graduate in spring 2024 would have the benefits for a three-year timeframe from their high school graduation to help them work toward completing their associate degree. Those who continue at ACC to pursue a bachelor’s degree would receive two additional years of tuition support.
“The cost of going to a university has exploded and fundamentally priced out middle-class families and families living in the warzone of poverty. This program makes a bachelor’s degree affordable for families,” Dr. Lower-Hart said. “What I am most excited about is that, with this application, a student can come to ACC, earn their associate degree, stay, and get one of the four bachelor’s degrees ACC offers for little to no cost. That is going to change lives.”
Funds for the proposed program are already available within the college’s annual budget. The state appropriations received through House Bill 8 would be used to help fund college programs and expenses, which will ultimately free up dollars to help cover the costs of tuition for these students, according to the release.
If approved, the college hopes to expand partnerships and grow the pilot program to all students.
“We think this program can eventually unlock higher education to everyone our in community who needs it but doesn’t think they can afford it,” said Dr. Lowery-Hart. “We’ll use the pilot program as a test case to build out the systems and monitor the impact and success rates. If we can then work with our partners and continue to fundraise, we can scale it for all students. It could change not just individual and family lives, but the economic power of our community.”
The college expects to present a formal plan for the pilot program to the board of trustees in February.