The University of Houston’s main campus and UH Downtown both feature programs that provide low-income students with free tuition. Starting in fall 2019, the cap for eligibility for these programs will be raised from $45,000 to $50,000.
Both programs have been around since the early 2010s, according to Media Relations at UH and UHD.
“Both the Gator Pledge and Cougar Promise have many similarities and in many respects are parallel programs,” said UHD Assistant Vice President Enrollment Management and Registrar Daniel Villanueva by email. “They both offer financial aid packages to students with a family adjusted gross income (AGI) of $50,000 or less.”
Cougar Promise and Gator Pledge are funded by Pell Grants, the amount of which is determined through a student’s submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
FAFSA may not cover a student’s entire tuition cost; the Cougar Promise and Gator Pledge Programs provide additional funding to fill the gap between cost and financial feasibility, according to the Cougar Promise website.
“The funding for Cougar Promise is primarily made up of Federal Pell and TEXAS Grants,” Jans said. “No loans or student-employment are part of Cougar Promise,” said UH Executive Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid Briget Jans.
Pell Grant eligibility is determined through the submission of a FAFSA. Students must demonstrate financial need in their FAFSA in order to be eligible for the Pell Grant.
Financial need is determined by the U.S. Department of Education, providing information that is plugged into an equation that estimates the cost of attending the university the student attends in comparison with their family’s income.
Students must also meet the requirements that Cougar Promise and Gator Pledge list to be considered for a Pell Grant, according to College Board.
“Amounts that are not covered by Pell Grants will be subsidized by a combination of TEXAS Grants and other funding sources with institutional funds added as needed,” Villanueva said.
There is no limit on the number of students who can participate in the Cougar Promise and Gator Pledge programs.
“Since 2014-15, there have been more than 1,900 students who have been covered by Cougar Promise,” Jans said.
Students applying for assistance from these programs must be incoming freshmen. Those who are chosen to receive funding from Cougar Promise or Gator Pledge have to be full-time students and must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA for the four-year duration of the program.
While UH requires students to submit their FAFSA by the January 15th priority deadline to be eligible for Cougar Promise, UHD asks that students submit theirs by May 1 to gain admission to Gator Pledge.
“The Gator Pledge program will assist all students who are eligible to receive Federal Pell Grants and submit all financial aid forms with supporting documentation by May 1 or until funds are depleted,” Villanueva said.
Although UH and UHD are both part of the UH System, UHD operates as its own entity. This absence of affiliation means that each university offers different financial aid programs.
“We believe that making a high quality university education available and affordable to everyone in the Houston metropolitan region is an essential feature of our work,” Villanueva said. “The Gator Pledge is how we can put that commitment into action.”