Rice University will drastically expand financial aid for students with family incomes below $200,000 beginning in fall 2019, according to a press release from the university’s Office of Public Affairs.

Under the announced plan, undergraduates eligible for need-based aid whose family incomes fall between $65,000 and $130,000 will receive full tuition scholarships, according to the press release. Eligible students from families with incomes between $130,000 and $200,000 will receive scholarships that cover at least half of their tuition. 

The plan, titled The Rice Investment, will also increase support for students with family incomes under $65,000 by offering aid that covers mandatory fees and room and board, in addition to full tuition, which Rice University President David Leebron said many students in this category already receive. Both incoming and currently enrolled students will be eligible, according to the press release. 

“There's nothing more important here than our students and we take pride in having a program that makes our education affordable,” Leebron said. “We think [this plan] is very important to the families of our students.”

To support the plan, Leebron said Rice is undertaking a $150 million fundraising campaign and has already raised $50 million to support financial aid.  

“If we can raise 150 million, we can sustain the plan in perpetuity,” Leebron said. 

The plan will also reduce student debt, according to the press release. Rice will no longer require eligible students from families with incomes up to $200,000 to take out loans as part of their need-based financial aid — scholarships and grants will replace loans. The press release states students are still expected to contribute toward their enrollment “through moderate earnings from summer and academic year jobs.” 

The main impact of the plan will be an increase in the amount of aid students receive, not the number of students who are eligible for aid, according to Leebron. Under the current financial aid plan, Rice does not provide loans to families with total incomes below $80,000 as part of the financial aid package, according to the Office of Financial Aid’s website. For families with incomes above $80,000, Rice provides a $2,500 subsidized loan. 

The goal of The Rice Investment is to address the financial challenges facing families with moderate incomes, according to the press release. Leebron said The Rice Investment is estimated to increase the financial aid of about 550 students given the socioeconomic breakdown of the current student body, and the average aid package will be close to the cost of tuition.

In the 2017-2018 school year, Rice offered $56,173,936 in institutional need-based aid, according to the 2017-2018 Common Data Set. Out of 4,005 full-time undergraduate students, 1,529 were determined to have a financial need and 1,506 were awarded need-based scholarship or grant aid. The data set states the average need-based scholarship and grant award to those 1,506 students was $40,285. 

The press release states families with “atypically large assets or certain unusual circumstances” may not qualify for need-based aid under the new plan even if their incomes meet the cutoff.

According to the press release, The Rice University Board of Trustees has endorsed The Rice Investment. Leebron said the plan emerged in the spring after the adoption of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade, which includes the goal of expanding diversity among the student body.

“I think we're going to see more applications from lower-income and middle-income students, and I hope lots of students will see this as a commitment to a socioeconomically diverse student body,” Leebron said.

Leebron said only about five institutions offer a level of support for the middle and upper middle class comparable to that of The Rice Investment.

According to Princeton University’s financial aid website, Princeton offers full tuition to students from families earning up to $160,000. Yale requires families earning between $65,000 and $200,000 to contribute between 1 percent and 20 percent of their yearly income to their child’s tuition, according to Yale’s financial aid website. Harvard’s financial aid website states families with incomes between $65,000 and $150,000 contribute between zero percent and 10 percent of their income.

Rice did not charge tuition from its opening in 1912 until 1965, as dictated in its initial charter. Although it has been 53 years since the policy was discontinued, Leebron said the university is hoping to honor its early tradition. 

“We were concerned looking towards the future that middle class families would perceive private higher education increasingly as out of reach and there's been a national conversation around that,” Leebron said. “We wanted to make it clear that at Rice...it's going to be affordable to people from all income classes.”