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UWF Pledges To Cover Tuition And Fees For Low-Income Students

Will Kennedy
University of West Florida

The University of West Florida wants to ensure all students have access to education, despite their financial situation. Starting this fall, the university is introducing a new program that will help many students complete their four-year bachelor’s degrees, debt free.

“The Argo 30 Guarantee is a promise to our undergraduate, Florida resident, Pell-eligible students that they will not have any out of pocket costs for their tuition and fees for up to 30 credit hours for the academic year,” said Shana

Gore, executive director of UWF Enrollment Management, which is overseeing the program.

Gore says the Argo 30 Guarantee is the first of its kind at UWF and is the result of a collaborative effort to assist the university’s neediest students, based on their feedback.

“Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily come up the first semester here,” Gore explained. “Sometimes families have some funds saved and so getting through the first semester or first year isn’t necessarily the issue, but then they’ll be talking to their academic advisor and we find out that they’re withdrawing because of the cost as a barrier for them.”

The program is limited to tuition and fees - not covered by other grants or scholarships - up to 30 credit hours each academic year, for up to four years.

“There could be additional charges if students elect to live on campus or if students elect for a meal plan, and then there’s the cost for books, even transportation if they’re driving back and forth from home. And, there may be some other programs to assist with that, but tuition and fees every student has to pay those regardless of where you live (or) what your meal plan situation is. So, that’s the part we want to make sure is covered.”

As noted, to qualify for the Argo 30 Guarantee, students must be classified as Pell eligible Florida residents seeking their first bachelor’s degree, and meet application deadlines.

The new program is expected to provide a significant benefit at UWF, where approximately 35-40% of all in-state undergraduate students qualify for the Federal Pell Grant. Approximately the same percentage of the 2019 incoming freshmen from Escambia County qualify for Pell grant funds.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Shana Gore, executive director of Enrollment Management at UWF, recently unveiled the university's new Argo 30 Guarantee program.

When I think for a lot of our Escambia county students, this could be the difference in whether they’re able to attend college or not,” Gore said. “The Pell Grant is a need based grant and does cover a portion of tuition and fees, but even for those students that qualify for the highest amount of Pell, they still fall a couple of hundred dollars short of having their tuition and fees covered.”

For example, for students taking 15 hours per semester at UWF, the annual cost is $6,360. The Pell Grant maximum is just over $6,100.  The difference could be greater for students who qualify for less Pell grant funds.

“So, we’re just gonna [sic] make that promise that they can come here, they’ll use the Pell grant, sometimes they’ll have other need or merit-based aid, but whatever that gap is UWF will make sure it’s covered so that they can just worry about going to school.

On this day, UWF student Hunter Lyons and fellow orientation leaders have been conducting orientation with some of UWF’s newest students. As they wrap up their lunch break in the Commons, Lyons is getting a bit of the star treatment after speaking with the media just minutes before about the new Argo 30 Guarantee program.

“Just being able to not worry about your finances and just focus on growth and learning what you want to do is wonderful,” declared Lyons, who is the  kind of student that the Argo 30 Guarantee was created for.

The graduate of Pine Forest High School is an Information Technology major now heading into his junior year at UWF. After the death of one of his parents, he spent much of his childhood in foster care.

“I think especially for students like me, who were in foster care, or maybe they just don’t have a good relationship with their parents, or they just don’t receive financial support from their parents, Pell grant and other financial aid like the Argo 30 Guarantee are incredibly helpful,” Lyons said. “Because that’s what’s going to help them buy a car and get ahead in life, so they can get where they want to be.”

Lyons graduated high school a year early. Because he aged out of foster care, he was awarded a tuition waiver. He completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and was awarded a Pell grant.

With assistance, he has tapped into all the resources that are available to him and is making the most of his time at UWF, including plans to pursue a Master’s Degree.

Credit Will Kennedy / University of West Florida
University of West Florida
Hunter Lyons, UWF Student Ambassador and Orientation Leader, takes a break from a recent orientation session on the Pensacola campus.

“I’d like to study student affairs, which is this,” Lyons says as he points to the green staff shirt he’s wearing as a representative of the UWF Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

“I work as an orientation leader here, so we basically teach new students how to be an adult.” Lyons explained he’d like to have a job like this in the long term, whether that’s in orientation, recruitment, or some other related area.

So far, Lyons has cashed in as an IT major, declaring it wonderful for the opportunities, with so many experts, student organizations and job opportunities on campus. Already, he’s worked as an IT professional for the university.

Additionally, Lyons is in student government and he started the UWF Gaming Club, the biggest club on campus with some 400 members.

For Lyons, it appears his future is bright, on track to finish college, debt free.

“I am already looking at buying a house,” said Lyons. “I’ve been with partner for about two-and-a-half years now and we’re thinking about buying a house at this point. And, that wouldn’t even be on the horizon if we were straddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.”

Other students are not so lucky, graduating with varying amounts of debt from student loans.

In 2019, student debt reached $1.5 trillion nationwide.

According to Gore, UWF wants to reduce and even eliminate that kind of financial burden for low-income students considering becoming an Argonaut.

“We don’t want a student to have to make a decision not to attend UWF or not attend college at all because of the cost,” declared Gore.

The Argo 30 Guarantee will launch this fall, with incoming eligible students automatically considered if they complete the FAFSA. Resources used for the program will come from a variety of sources, requiring no repayment.