Following the lead of other institutions in the University of Texas System, University of Texas at San Antonio officials announced Thursday morning the creation of a new tuition-free program for qualifying students whose adjusted gross family income is below $50,500.

Called UTSA Bold Promise, the program will launch in fall 2020 and cover all tuition and fees for eight semesters within four years. This equates to about $10,000 annually per student, UTSA officials said.

First-time freshmen will be eligible if they are Texas residents, rank in the top quarter of their high school class, and have an adjusted gross family income under $50,500, the median income in San Antonio.

The university estimates 4,100 freshmen will qualify for aid in the 2020-21 school year. UTSA Bold Promise is a last-dollar scholarship, covering the remaining costs after students apply for federal or state financial aid. The anticipated total investment in the program’s first year is roughly $42 million with some of the cost being defrayed by state or federal financial aid.

Currently enrolled students will not be eligible, university officials said.

Bold Promise will allow Jennifer Uribe, a senior at Lanier High School and aspiring architect, to focus on her studies and not have to worry about taking out loans or getting a job while a student, she said.

“We can pay our full attention on our academics and studies to better prepare ourselves,” Uribe said at UTSA’s announcement event Thursday morning.

Once a student is in the program, he or she must remain enrolled with 12 or more credit hours a semester and maintain a 2.5 grade-point average to stay eligible.

The university’s leadership feels “fairly confident” that the institution has the funds to continue supporting the program in the future based on its financial models, Provost Kimberly Andrews Espy said. Bold Promise “reflects a commitment” to opening access to Texas students, she added.

UTSA currently enrolls more than 32,000 students and has a goal of growing its student body to 45,000 by 2028. Approximately 83 percent of full-time undergraduate students in 2017-18 receive some financial aid, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“We’re all born with the same potential, but not given the same opportunity, and this is an opportunity provider,” UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said.

About three-quarters of the freshman class will be eligible for the Bold Promise program, estimated Lynn Barnes, UTSA’s senior vice provost for strategic enrollment.

Both UT-Rio Grande Valley and UT-Austin announced similar programs earlier this year. The Rio Grande Valley institution launched UTRGV Tuition Advantage to cover the costs of tuition and mandatory fees for all students who could claim an adjusted gross family income of $75,000 or less.

UTRGV’s program is open to all in-state undergraduate students and, at the time of the announcement, the school estimated more than half of its undergraduate students would attend the institution in 2020-21 without paying tuition or mandatory fees.

UT-Austin announced its own free tuition program for low-income students in July. In fall 2020, a new endowment will cover the tuition and fees for students whose families earn up to $65,000 a year. UT-Austin officials estimated the new program will support more than 8,600 students annually.

The new endowment also will provide some financial aid to families with incomes up to $125,000. About 5,700 students could qualify, university officials projected.

Alamo Colleges officials also rolled out a tuition-free program this fall. Alamo Promise ensures students from qualifying Bexar County high schools will have tuition and fees covered for up to 60 credit hours. As of Nov. 30, close to 6,000 students from the 25 qualifying high school indicated interested in the program.

Roughly 40 percent of UTSA’s students transfer to the four-year institution from Alamo Colleges, Espy said. While Bold Promise applies only to first-time freshmen, UTSA leaders are exploring how to provide financial aid to students who transfer, she added.

In other college “promise” programs, including Dallas County Promise, four-year institutions work with community college systems to extend the tuition coverage an additional two years. UTSA is still in discussion with Alamo Colleges to do the same through Alamo Promise, Eighmy said.

“Imagine the power of being able to attend Alamo Colleges for free for two years and then transfer and attend UTSA for free for two years,” Eighmy said.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.