Austin Community College considers offering free tuition to high schoolers who graduate this spring
Austin Community College's chancellor has proposed a plan to make tuition free for 2024 high school graduates in the college’s service area.
"We’re really excited about that concept and the impact it can have on reducing debt for our students and the impact it can have on our economy and producing more skilled workers for our employers that need help,” Chancellor Russell Lowery-Hart said.
The ACC District Board of Trustees will need to approve the pilot program before the college can implement it.
Tuition and fees, which have not been raised for a decade, are $85 per credit hour. Lowery-Hart said there may still be some fees for specific courses.
“So, if a student is taking 12 hours, which is full time, this is going to potentially save them over $3,000 in a full academic year," Lowery-Hart said. "And that’s life changing."
Lowery-Hart said even though ACC saw enrollment increase by 5% this school year, he hopes offering free tuition will attract students who may not be pursuing higher education at all. According to the college, 12,000 Texas students who graduated high school in 2023 did not attend any higher education institution.
“We have students that are graduating high school and not going anywhere,” he said. “And we think this proposal might unlock a swath of our population that needs higher education but doesn’t think they can afford it.”
ACC estimates that covering tuition for 2024 high school graduates will cost about $7 million. Lowery-Hart said House Bill 8, which the Texas Legislature passed last year, will help offset that expense.
“We received about $6.7 million additional dollars,” he said. “We’ll be able to apply the HB 8 new funding to existing college resources and then redirect those resources to this pilot [program].”
House Bill 8 now funds community colleges primarily based on student outcomes, rather than enrollment. So, colleges can get more state funding depending on how many students earn credentials in high-demand fields or how many students transfer to four-year colleges and universities. Lowery-Hart said making tuition free for seniors will lead to more student success and ultimately more state funding for ACC.
He added that making tuition free will not only significantly offset the cost of obtaining a four-year degree if students transfer to another institution, but it will also largely eliminate the cost of earning one of the four bachelor’s degrees ACC offers.
“So, you can come to ACC and get a bachelor’s degree for little to no cost," he said. "That is going to change families’ lives."
The college plans to do outreach to local high schools about the proposed pilot program.
“We have the resources in this community to do something magical, and this will be a really powerful project for our community — not just for ACC," he said. "And I think it will be a unique one that will set us up as being a national model."
The ACC Board of Trustees will likely review a more detailed plan next month. Lowery-Hart then expects the board to vote on the proposal when it meets in early March, with the goal of rolling it out this fall. If the pilot program for high school graduates is approved and does well, he said, he wants the college to offer free tuition to more students.
“That would be the hope," he said, "that we can scale this for all students, but it starts with this cohort of 2024 high school graduates."