Michael and Susan Dell with scholarship graduates from their foundation.

The UT Tower will shine with burnt orange lights on Friday, January 31 in honor of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation for their generous gift to the university.

Earlier in the day, President Gregory L. Fenves announced the Dell Foundation and the university are launching a historic new partnership to close the gap in college graduation rates across income levels. The two organizations are teaming up to dramatically expand individualized support services for all Pell-eligible students at UT Austin and additional financial support for those with the greatest financial need.

The partnership will build on the model of the Dell Foundation’s Dell Scholars program, which has achieved graduation rates for low-income students at four times the national average. It will bring those efforts to scale at UT Austin, which has increased its overall graduation rates by nearly 20 percentage points and now guarantees financial assistance for low- and middle-income students through the Texas Advance Commitment.

With a commitment of $100 million over 10 years, the Dell Foundation will work with the university to close the gap in college graduation rates across income levels and ensure Pell-eligible students have access to resources that can help them complete their degrees at the same rates as higher-income peers. Federal Pell Grants are awarded to students with a high level of financial need, with greater than two-thirds coming from families with incomes of $30,000 or less each year.

“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,” said Susan Dell, co-founder and chairman of the board of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “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.”

Beginning in the fall of 2020, incoming Pell-eligible freshmen from families with the greatest need will become part of the Dell Scholars program, a proven model that serves students from across the country. Each Dell scholar will receive a financial award of $20,000 over his or her time in college that can be applied to the cost of attendance, including room and board, transportation, supplies and other expenses. For Texas residents, that funding will come on top of the university’s Texas Advance Commitment, which guarantees aid to cover the full cost of tuition and fees for Texas families earning $65,000 or less each year.

Although financial support is critical, closing the graduation rate gap requires more than financial support. Along with this new class of Dell scholars, all Pell-eligible undergraduate students at UT Austin will receive ongoing and individualized support from UT for Me – Powered by Dell Scholars, which will be designed to level the playing field for students from low-income backgrounds. This support includes:

  • Personalized, multifaceted support to address the individual and systemic issues that create barriers to success
  • Financial aid coaching, including financial literacy training
  • On-track graduation planning
  • Guided connection with university resources and programming
  • Peer advising
  • Internship and career planning
  • A laptop computer
  • Tutoring and textbook support

With the enhanced financial support and services, the Dell Foundation and UT Austin embark on a shared commitment to raise six-year graduation rates for Pell-eligible students from 73% to 90%. This increase would surpass the university’s current overall six-year graduation rate of 86%. Nationally, only 1 in 5 students from a low-income background graduate from college in six years.

“A college education has the power to change the life of a student and the future of their family and community,” Fenves said. “As a result of our groundbreaking partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, The University of Texas at Austin is poised to increase opportunities for thousands of talented students whose potential to achieve will be met with unprecedented commitment, resources and support.”

The experience of both organizations has demonstrated that financial assistance alone is not enough to help students graduate, and that mentoring, support services, and building communities of peers are equally important.

“It’s easy to assume that it’s money that keeps students from graduating from college,” said Janet Mountain, executive director of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “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.”

The program will begin serving freshmen this fall and add a new class of first-time college students each year. The university has committed to raising funds to maintain these services after 10 years, with programming fully integrated into UT’s Student Success Initiatives beyond 2030.

About Dell Scholars:

Dell Scholars is a scholarship and college-completion program that nurtures and empowers students on their paths to college degrees. Since starting the program in 2004, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has supported more than 4,800 scholars, including more than 2,400 college graduates. Nationally, only 20% of students graduate from college within six years, but our scholars are changing that reality, with 80% graduating with bachelor’s degrees within six years.