Hundreds more University of Texas at San Antonio students will be able to have their full tuition covered, thanks to a new $3 million endowment from the University of Texas System.

The UT System’s Board of Regents approved the creation of a $300 million endowment last month to reduce the cost of higher education for undergraduate students at seven institutions in the system, including UTSA. Called Promise Plus, the endowment will continue to grow each year to provide aid to more students across the state.

UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken, Board of Regents Chairman Kevin P. Eltfie, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy and state Sen. José Menéndez touted the expanded tuition assistance program at a press conference Monday at the downtown San Antonio campus.

Milliken said he’s visiting the seven UT campuses to make sure students know this help is available.

“We found over time that parents and students overestimate the college cost and underestimate what aid’s available,” he said. “We want everyone to know about the region’s Promise Plus program so they know what aid is available.”

UTSA’s $3 million share of the endowment has enabled the university to expand its tuition-free program to hundreds more students. Launched in 2019, the Bold Promise program pays all tuition and fees for first-year students with family income as high as $70,000, up from $50,500.

More than 1,700 students have benefitted from the Bold Promise program, and another 3,800 qualified for fall 2022, Eighmy said. UTSA does not know how many students will accept the offers for the fall.

Bold Promise students perform better than their peers, with 82% returning for their second year compared to 77% of other students, Eighmy said. They also earn more credit hours on average and have higher GPAs than their peers.

“The success of Bold Promise students proves when given the right opportunity and the right environment students from all backgrounds can succeed,” he said.

To qualify, students must be recent graduates of a Texas high school who were ranked in the top 25% of their class, and they must take at least 12 credit hours each semester.

First-year UTSA student Gabby Palacios said she likely wouldn’t have attended college without the Bold Promise program, which she heard about on the news and from UTSA. She is the first person in her family to attend college, so she didn’t know much about the application and financial aid process before UTSA reached out to her.

“Not only has it given me the ability to really kickstart my higher education, but it’s also opened the door to new opportunities,” she said. “I am a first-generation student. Before me, my younger sister probably didn’t think that there’s a chance that she would get to go to college, but with my opportunities and the things that I’ve been able to do with what I’ve been given, that possibility definitely seems a lot greater.”

The program covers all tuition and fees for four consecutive years after other financial aid has been applied to a student’s account, but it does not pay for meals or housing.

Average tuition and fees at UTSA costs roughly $9,700 annually, according to the 2020 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac.

Almost 45% of UTSA students receive need-based federal Pell Grants, according to the Texas Public Higher Education Almanac.

The other institutions that will benefit from the UT System’s new endowment include UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT El Paso, UT Permian Basin, UT Rio Grande Valley and UT Tyler. 

The Alamo Colleges District offers a similar program for high school seniors who graduate from 47 participating high schools in San Antonio. Launched in 2020, the Alamo Promise program is a last-dollar scholarship initiative that covers students’ tuition and fees for up to three years or until they complete an associate degree. About 3,000 students participated in the Alamo Promise program in its first year.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.