When Megan Huerta was choosing where she wanted to go to college, she knew she would have to pay for her education herself.
The Van Vleck native and third of 12 siblings graduated from the University of Houston-Victoria in May with a Bachelor of Science in biology and no student loan debt.
“I feel really lucky that I was able to attend such an affordable university,” Huerta said. “UHV offers a great education, and I’m planning to return in the fall to start working toward my master’s in biomedical sciences.”
A recent report from USA Today stated the average debt in 2015 for U.S. college graduates was about $35,000. During the 2014-2015 school year, only 48 percent of the 1,066 UHV students who graduated had student loans. Among those UHV graduates, the average amount of debt was a little more than $27,000.
“One of the essential goals and priorities of UHV is to provide a quality, affordable education,” UHV President Vic Morgan said. “Our students come from all economic backgrounds, and we want to ensure that they have the opportunity to earn a degree without being hampered by overwhelming debt.”
Students working to earn undergraduate degrees at UHV already have an advantage when it comes to avoiding debt. According to 2016-2017 tuition and fees data from CollegeForAllTexans.com, in-state UHV students who take 15 credit hours each fall and spring semester for four years will save up to $10,711 compared with Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech University.
The university has several resources available to help students pay for their education, said Lashon Williams, director of the UHV Office of Financial Aid. The first step to accessing those resources is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The information from the FAFSA is used to determine if students are eligible for need-based scholarships or grants.
“The university tries to give out as much ‘free money,’ such as scholarships and grants, as possible,” Williams said. “A lot of students qualify for Pell and Texas Education grants, and the sooner they get their applications in, the more likely they are to receive funds.”
In addition, students can apply for merit-based scholarships through the university and other sources, such as nonprofits and foundations. Huerta was able to earn extra aid from sports scholarships.
“I played softball and soccer, and I got a softball scholarship,” Huerta said. “I just kept applying for any kind of scholarship or aid I could find.”
If grants and scholarships aren’t enough or are not available, students also have the option to take part in a work study program. Students can work various jobs around campus in Information Technology, campus offices or Jaguar Dining Hall. Some students even are hired to drive campus shuttle buses. Off-campus work study options also are available through nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA of the Golden Crescent and the Boys & Girls Club of Victoria.
Every year, UHV Career Services hosts a part-time job fair to connect students with area employers. The office also hosts several other events during the year, including field-specific fairs and a military career fair.
“Loans should always be a last resort,” Williams said. “We always tell students to borrow responsibly and only get what they need.”
Another reason UHV graduates’ loan amounts are lower than the national average is because of the options the university offers for paying tuition and fees, UHV Assistant Bursar Ashley Sisson said. In addition to paying their tuition up front at the beginning of each semester, students have the option to pay using an installment plan or an Institutional Tuition Loan.
If students use an installment plan, their tuition and fees are divided into five payments spread throughout the semester with a one-time $20 service charge. The plan is available during the spring and fall semesters. Students also can apply a second installment plan toward their housing and meal plans.
“The university has some great payment options,” Huerta said. “Between my financial aid and my job on campus, I was able to pay my tuition through the semester with no problem.”
The Institutional Tuition Loan program defers students’ payments until later in the semester. The cost is deferred 90 days in the spring and fall, and 30 days in the summer. This plan comes with a one-time service charge of 1.25 percent of the student’s total tuition and fees for the semester.
“These methods give students time to take care of their balances throughout the year,” Sisson said. “We want to make paying for education as stress-free as possible, and these methods help make sure they don’t have to scramble for a large lump sum at the beginning of every semester.”