Texas public universities remain more affordable compared with most states, though out-of-pocket costs for many families continue to rise.
That’s based on a Dallas Morning News analysis of cost data that colleges report to the federal government.
The published cost to attend a Texas public university averages more than $20,000 a year for in-state students. Thanks to financial aid, most students pay less than that.
The analysis tracks average net price — what students pay for a year of college — minus grants or scholarships from federal, state or college sources. Colleges report net price for full-time freshmen who paid in-state tuition and received federal financial aid.
Average net price is reported for five income groups. Among the findings for Texas public universities:
In 2011-12, freshmen with family income below $30,000 paid an average of $8,100 a year. The national average for that group was $9,500.
Those in the middle income group (between $48,000 and $75,000) paid an average of $14,000 a year. The national average was $14,900.
Freshmen with family income above $110,000 paid an average of $18,800. The national average was $19,600.
In addition, average costs for low-income Texas students have risen by less, compared with other states.
From 2008-09 to 2011-12, the poorest students in Texas saw their average net price increase about $160. The average national increase was about $1,400. Both figures are adjusted for inflation.
Middle- and high-income Texas students at public universities, on the other hand, saw larger increases that were on par with the nation.
But there were exceptions. At the University of Texas at Dallas, for instance, the average net price declined across all income groups from 2008-09 through 2011-12. University leaders say they’ve invested more money in scholarships to draw top students, no matter their financial need.
At the University of North Texas, freshmen with the greatest financial need paid an average of just $1,400 in 2011-12, federal data show. That’s money students had to cover with loans, private scholarships, jobs or other means.
Middle-income freshmen paid more, about $11,500. And freshmen in the top income group paid close to full price — an average of $17,200.
UNT leaders say their goal is to make a college education within reach of students no matter their financial means.
“We want to be able to provide the best undergraduate education to students who show academic ability. They need an opportunity,” said Rebecca Lothringer, UNT’s admissions director.
UNT gives that opportunity through its Emerald Eagle Scholars program. The program uses federal, state and school grants to cover tuition and fees for low-income students (below $40,000) who show academic promise and keep their grades up.
This year UNT has 550 new scholars, including freshman Esmeralda Rosas of Dallas. She graduated from the School of Business and Management at Townview Center, a Dallas ISD magnet school. She received enough scholarships and grants to bring her cost down to $1,700 per year, which she covers with a part-time office job on campus.
Her parents didn’t go to college. While her mother graduated from high school, her father has a fourth-grade education.
“My dream was to come to a university,” Rosas said. “It’s important to me because I know my parents struggled with their education, and they didn’t go as far as they wanted to. I feel like it’s my duty to be an example.”
Many of Texas’ public universities take the same approach — awarding aid so that students with the greatest need pay considerably less than higher-income students.
“It’s the concept of keeping institutions accessible and affordable to any student who meets the qualifications to get admitted,” said Thomas Melecki, financial aid director at the University of Texas-Austin.
State policy reflects that attitude, too. The state’s biggest grant program, Texas Grants, is based on financial need, with most awards going to students with family incomes below $45,000. In many states, including Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, the main grant programs are based on merit.
At Texas private universities, out-of-pocket costs varied widely. They depended largely on a school’s financial resources and mission.
Rice University in Houston had the lowest net price for poor students — $6,800, less than what many public schools charge. As a prestigious research school with a huge endowment of $4.8 billion, Rice can heavily subsidize the cost of needy students.
The University of Dallas has a tiny fraction of Rice’s endowment. Still, the small Catholic school gives nearly every freshman a grant or scholarship (or both), so they pay much less than sticker price.
The biggest scholarships go to those with the highest grades and ACT or SAT scores.
“We feel that it’s important to honor the merit of a student,” said Taryn Anderson, the university’s financial aid director. And the university wants students who can handle a demanding curriculum, with 20 required classes in philosophy, literature, theology and other fields.
The 52 freshmen in the lowest income group in 2011-12 had an average net price of $24,500, federal data shows. The 62 freshmen in the top income group who received federal aid paid slightly more — about $27,300. (The federal data does not indicate whether students received outside scholarships.)
But some families aren’t as well-off as their income suggests.
Some University of Dallas families earn six figures but have three, four or even five kids in college, Anderson said. Many of them qualify for need-based federal grants.
More than a quarter of freshmen qualify for Pell grants, the federal aid program for low-income students. Students are willing to pay more at the University of Dallas than they might at a state school, Anderson said.
Vanessa Loya, a junior, commutes to Irving from her family’s home in Dallas. That saves about $10,000 a year in room and board. She took out a few thousand dollars in loans and works part time at the university switchboard.
Loya said she wanted to attend a private school like the University of Dallas, where a professor (not a teaching assistant) has taught every class. “They have smaller class sizes,” she said. “They pay more attention to students.”
Still, annual costs at public and private universities in Texas continue to rise. Students are taking out a growing amount of loans, and that’s a concern for some experts.