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New UTPAdvantage program guarantees free tuition and fees
Posted: 12/20/2006
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Rebekah Sepulveda, a junior majoring in communication studies at The University of Texas-Pan American, will now be able to spend more time studying and less time working to pay for her education due to a new tuition initiative - UTPAdvantage - that will guarantee free tuition and fees to eligible students whose families earn $25,000 or less a year.

Pictured from left to right at the press conference Dec. 20 to announce the UTPAdvantage free tuition initiative are State Representative Veronica Gonzales (TX-41), UTPA student Rebekah Sepulveda, UTPA Financial Aid Director Elaine Rivera, UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas and Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (TX-20).
"Attaining a higher education is something that has been instilled in me by my mom," Sepulveda said. "But each semester I have to figure out who I'm going to ask to help me pay for it, because my Pell grant doesn't cover everything."

Sepulveda said she can now breathe easier knowing this program is available to help students like herself and she knows it will relieve some of the burden of having to work so many hours to pay her tuition and fees.

At a press conference to announce the initiative UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas told the more than 50 attendees that the community needs to emphasize the idea that college is for everyone.

"College is affordable and possible if people make the right choices and acquire the right information," Cárdenas said. "We have set this program in place to get the message out to students, teachers, parents and families that poverty and meager resources are not impediments to higher education."

The UTPAdvantage free tuition initiative, which will start fall 2007, will cover the cost of tuition and fees for the regular academic year - fall and spring - for students who meet all of the following requirements:

• Have a family income of $25,000 or less as reported on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

• Are classified as a Texas resident.

• Are enrolled 15 hours or more a semester.

• Are enrolled as an undergraduate in a degree-seeking program.

• Have filed the FAFSA for the upcoming academic year by the March 1 Financial Aid Priority Deadline.

• Are making satisfactory academic progress.

An estimated 50 percent of students attending UTPA could qualify financially for this program, according to Elaine Rivera, director of Financial Aid at UTPA. She said college degree attainment in the Rio Grande Valley is 11 percent, compared to 20 percent for Texas and 24 percent for the nation.

"UTPAdvantage is a way to offer families a guarantee for their children to be able to come to college without paying any out of pocket expenses," Rivera said. "It has the potential to change the lives of countless families."

The program is available for a maximum of eight semesters or until graduation, whichever occurs first.

"We think that some of these requirements are going to encourage students to graduate on time," she said. "This means that we are going to have more graduates in the Valley in the work force, which will have a tremendous impact on the area."

UTPAdvantage will cover tuition and fees through different forms of gift aid, including federal, state, institutional and private forms of scholarships and grants. Funding for the UTPAdvantage program for each academic year is contingent upon availability of monies.

Dr. Paul Sale, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, touted the value of education at UTPA because students are getting to work with faculty who are at the forefront of innovation.

"Nowhere else can students work alongside leading researchers and scientists to develop high powered lasers and drugs to cure cancer. What a value that is," Sale said. "But, no matter what the value is, if students can't afford it (a University education), it has no value to them."

Students whose families make more than $25,000 a year are still encouraged to apply for financial aid by the March 1 deadline to ensure they receive the most amount of free aid possible.

Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, said UTPA is noted for its access programs which not only encourage students to go to college, but to plan for success at the University level.

"We believe that our democracy and our economy are best maintained not by denying opportunities, but by increasing them," Edwards said.

UTPAdvantage is part of The University of Texas System's effort to make college more affordable for low-income students. For more information about the UTPAdvantage initiative call the Student Financial Services Office at 956/380-8787 or e-mail finaid@utpa.edu.

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