Ds Scholarship

Rice University expands debt-free financial aid

Rice University officials announced this week that they will offer loan-free financial assistance to all eligible students based on need, and will provide full scholarships or scholarships to undergraduate students whose families earn less than $140,000 annually.

The amendment to Rice’s financial aid criteria comes as college affordability remains an urgent issue for low- and middle-income students after the COVID-19 pandemic. Universities across the country are looking at ways to make their institutions more accessible, and Rice University President David W. LeBron said the changes to his campus are simple: Any tuition aid the university provides to students won’t be tied to debt.

LeBron said Rice had previously committed to providing loan-free financial aid to students whose household incomes were less than $200,000.

“Access and affordability are limited if you have a program that cannot be easily explained,” he said. “If we thought you needed help…now we would say, ‘No, you don’t need to borrow money. We will provide financial assistance.”

Another change will happen by expanding the income brackets that determine how much students can receive under a financial aid package called the rice investment. Undergraduates who qualify for need-based financial aid and have a family income of less than $75,000 will receive assistance that covers full tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board, according to the university.

Full scholarships will be awarded to eligible undergraduate students with incomes between $75,000 and $140,000. University officials said students with a family income of between $140,000 and $200,000 will receive scholarships that cover at least half of their tuition fees.

“The original intent of the Rice Foundation was to invest in the promises of students, regardless of their financial background,” said Ann Walker, associate vice president and executive director of the university’s financial aid services. “By offering loan-free financial aid packages, we continue to invest in our students and their ability to create a bright future free of student debt.”

Income brackets will expand by $10,000 to eligible undergraduate students for full scholarships and fellowships. The first is based on need, the second on merit.

As part of a seven-point strategic plan to make Rice more affordable for students, university officials announced in 2018 that these full scholarships, including room and board, will apply to students whose families were under $65,000 a year. Full scholarships apply to students whose family incomes ranged from $65,000 to $130,000 per year, and Half Scholarships apply to students whose families range from $130,000 to $200,000.

Yvonne Romero da Silva, vice president of enrollment, said the expansion will expand the university’s access to a more diverse community, especially people affected by COVID-19. All eligible students – current and incoming – will see the changes starting in Fall 2022.

LeBron said the strong returns that Rice made on her endowment fund last year allowed for adjustments to her financial aid package. The endowment is currently valued at $8.1 billion, according to the university.

Enrollment does not appear to have changed as a result of the pandemic: the university took in more students in 2021 than in the previous year. In the fall of 2021, Rice saw an 8 percent increase in total enrollment and a nearly 5 percent increase in undergraduate students.

samantha.ketterer@chron.com

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