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Austin billionaire pledges $100 million for low-income UT students

Austin billionaire pledges $100 million for low-income UT students

University of Texas at Austin tower aerial
UT Austin and the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation are rolling out a multimillion-dollar initiative.  University of Texas at Austin/Facebook

The charitable foundation established by Austin billionaire Michael Dell and his wife, Susan, has pledged $100 million in support of low-income students attending the University of Texas at Austin.

On January 31, the Austin-based Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and UT unveiled the partnership. The 10-year, $100 million commitment is aimed at enabling more low-income students to graduate compared with their higher-income classmates.

Beginning this fall, incoming freshmen eligible for federal Pell grants will become part of the Dell Scholars program. Each Dell Scholar will receive a financial award of $20,000 over his or her time at UT that can be applied to tuition, room and board, transportation, supplies, and other expenses. For Texas residents, that funding will be coupled with UT’s Texas Advance Commitment, which guarantees aid covering the full cost of tuition and fees for Texas families earning up to $65,000 a year.

The federal government awards Pell grants to lower-income students, with more than two-thirds of the grants benefiting families with annual income up to $30,000.

“When Michael and I opened the doors of our family foundation in 1999, one of the first big initiatives we launched was the Dell Scholars program,” Susan Dell, co-founder and chairwoman of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, says in a UT release. “From the very beginning, it has been incredibly important to us that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to graduate from college — and that mission continues to this day.”

Michael Dell is chairman and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies Inc. In 1984, he founded the company in his UT dorm room. With a net worth of more than $30 billion, Dell is the richest person in Austin and one of the 20 richest people in the U.S. 

Along with joining the Dell Scholars program, all Pell-eligible undergraduate students at UT will receive support from the UT for Me — Powered by Dell Scholars effort. This support includes:

  • Financial aid coaching
  • Financial literacy training
  • Tutoring
  • Laptop computer
  • Internship and career planning
  • Graduation planning

“It’s easy to assume that it’s money that keeps students from graduating from college,” Janet Mountain, executive director of the Dell Foundation, says in the release. “We know that it’s often other personal challenges — challenges that are mostly solvable with the right support at the right time — that derail students from achieving a degree.”

Under the new partnership, the Dell Foundation and UT hope to raise six-year graduation rates for Pell-eligible students from 73 percent to 90 percent. That would surpass UT’s overall six-year graduation rate of 86 percent.

Like the new tuition policy, the Dell-UT partnership will start serving freshmen this fall and add a new class of first-time college students each year. The university has agreed to raise money to maintain these services after the foundation’s 10-year commitment ends.