ACC proposes free college tuition for high school seniors

Austin Community College District (ACC) wants to pilot a new program to make college tuition FREE for all high school seniors in Central Texas. 

On Monday, January 8, ACC Chancellor Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart presented the bold, new proposal. 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,” says Dr. Lowery-Hart. “Students have told us the affordability of college and the subsequent debt they could incur is keeping them away.” 

Regional data show approximately 12,000 seniors in Central Texas didn’t attend any type of higher education in Texas after graduating high school last year.

“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,” says Dr. Lowery-Hart. “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. 

What’s Included:

  • Fund $85 per credit hour for up to 3 years
  • $67 Resident Tuition
  • $15 General Fee
  • $2 Success Fee
  • $1 Sustainability Fee

What’s Not Included:

  • Out-of-District Fee (currently $201/SCH)
  • Non-Residents/International Students
  • Any Course/Program Specific Fees
  • Textbooks

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,” says Dr. Lower-Hart. “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.”

HOW IS IT FUNDED?

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.

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 community who needs it but doesn’t think they can afford it,” says 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.

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