higher ed

University of Texas at Austin to provide free tuition to families making less than $65,000

The new endowment will be available beginning in fall 2020. University of Texas at Austin/Facebook

The University of Texas at Austin is taking a big step to combat the increasing costs of higher education. On July 9, the system's Board of Regents voted to establish a $160 million endowment to help Texas families ease the burden of funding a UT education.

Beginning in fall 2020, the endowment will cover in-state tuition and fees for students from families that earn up to $65,000 a year, or about 8,600 undergraduates a year. (Texas' median income was $59,206 in 2017, according to the most recent available numbers.)

Under the current Texas Advance Commitment, full tuition is only provided to families earning up to $30,000 per year.

Along with covering costs for families making $65,000 or less, the new endowment will provide "tuition support" for families making $125,000 or less, or about 5,700 students.

The $160 million endowment is a distribution of the state's Permanent University Fund, which "includes money from oil and gas royalties earned on state-owned land in West Texas," according to a release.

"There is no greater engine of social and economic mobility than a college degree, and this initiative ensures that more Texans will benefit from a high-quality UT Austin education," said Chancellor James B. Milliken, in a release.

The decision is undoubtedly a banner one for UT President Gregory Fenves, who has spent the majority of his tenure working on affordability issues. In a release, Fenves echoed Milliken, calling the fund an "invest[ment] in the future of our great state."

"I am grateful to the UT System Board of Regents and Chairman Kevin Eltife for prioritizing students and investing in the future of our great state," said Fenves. "This new endowment will go a long way toward making our university affordable for talented Texas students from every background and region."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Coding camps continue to grow and expand in Houston. The most recent comes from the University of Texas. Getty Images

As Houston's innovation ecosystem grows, the need for tech talent grows too. It's why the University of Texas and workforce accelerator Trilogy Education decided to bring a series of coding boot camps designed to teach Houstonians the skills they need to excel in the fast-paced world of the tech economy to town.

"Too many working adults lack the skills to succeed in the digital economy," says Liliya Spinazzola, the senior director for professional education and strategic initiatives at the Texas Extended Campus of The University of Texas at Austin. "And that means that employers are lacking a talent pool."

The Houston Coding Boot Camp aims to change all that. The 24-week sessions teach web development and coding skills, allowing adults to take classes even as they're working. That kind of flexibility helps them increase their knowledge as they continue to build career paths.

Houston's seen a good amount of growth when it comes to new coding camps. Digital Crafts, for instance, grew from an inaugural class of eight students to 125 people in just two years. Women Who Code saw a need for female coders in Houston to have a network, and now the city has a newly launched chapter.

Student success
So far, 260 students have completed the programs, going on to work at companies such as JP Morgan, IBM, and Deloitte.

One of those is Rebecca Gemeinhardt, now a full stack developer at Shell. She graduated with her bachelor's in graphic arts from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2017, and found that she missed being in a classroom. When she started the boot camp, she was immediately drawn to the challenge the subject matter offered, as well as the flexible schedule.

"The boot camp was just as formidable as the curriculum promised but extremely fulfilling," she says. "Going into boot camp, I didn't tell anyone I was doing it — what if I struggled and couldn't get through it? I kept it a secret until I found the confidence to identify as a developer."

Once she completed the program, she was hired at Shell.

"My life had changed so much in just six months but definitely for the better," Gemeinhardt says. "By focusing on the ability to adopt new technologies, [the coding boot camp instructors] left us with the invaluable skill of being adaptable and fast-learning full stack developers. This has helped me immensely at my current position as we are always incorporating new languages to our architecture depending on individual project needs."

Filling the need
Spinazzola says the camps deliberately try to create environments that foster the level of problem solving and exploration Gemeinhardt describes. The program partners with employers to discover what skills are most needed, and tailors the curriculum to dovetail with them. She says the skills most in demand right now are coding, cyber security, IT project management, and digital marketing.

"We also look at job description data here in Texas to see what skills are listed," she says. "And while students are in the program, we have a robust network that engages with them upfront, talking to them about what jobs are out there. And we host career fairs where they can show off their portfolios and discuss their skills set with potential employers."

Spinazzola says that students come from all walks of life and employment backgrounds, and that 26 percent of the participants are women. With 25 students per boot camp session, the small classes make for deep instruction. UT offers between three and fours sessions in Houston each year. She says that she finds participants are looking to either break into the tech sector, learn new skills or re-train to be able to advance their careers. The average age of students is somewhere in the low-30s, she says.

"We had a student who owned a cooking school and wanted to start a new career," she says. "[Rebecca] trained as a graphic artist and wanted to be a developer. One student shut down his medical practice and says that he wanted to learn coding so that he could go work for a pharmaceutical company. To me, that's the beauty of this program. These skills are in demand, and our students are able to take what they already know and enhance their abilities to be able to take on new career paths."