BACK TO THE FUTURE

Photo by Tommy Lavergne

Six years ago, we celebrated the centennial of the opening of Rice University. There was a great deal to celebrate. This included not only all we had achieved over a century — all the students we had educated and the impactful research we had conducted — but also a great future ahead. This was made possible in no small measure by the generosity of our alumni and friends, who contributed over $1 billion to the future success of our university during our Centennial Campaign.

Three years ago, we passed another milestone, albeit one we admittedly took little notice of. The year 2015 marked 50 years since Rice, which had been tuition-free since its founding, started charging tuition. At the time this decision was made, Rice’s endowment was not especially large, and the additional resources were necessary if Rice were to be able to continue providing the best quality education and pursuing its aspirations to be one of the nation’s top research universities.

Why had Rice been free in the first place? Our original benefactor, William Marsh Rice; our founding president, Edgar Odell Lovett; and our first board of trustees recognized a need to extend educational opportunity to young people, especially in Texas, who otherwise could not afford it. There was little in the way of educational scholarships in the early 20th century. One might sum up the basic founding philosophy of Rice in three words: Talent deserves opportunity.

For over half a century, Rice provided that opportunity to all it admitted, regardless of their means, by not charging tuition. That approach ended in 1965 after Rice changed its charter to allow it to charge tuition. But immediately with that decision, Rice also started to provide scholarship assistance.

In the 50 years since, many things have changed across the landscape of higher education. Tuition has increased to high levels. Debt burdens have for some become unsustainable, and have affected the choices available to graduates. Rice has had one of the most generous financial aid programs. Particularly in recent years, we have made it more affordable to those from low-income families, providing more generous financial aid and not requiring students from families earning less than $80,000 a year to take out loans to pay their educational costs.

Middle-income students from families earning between $65,000 and $130,000 (with typical assets) will receive a financial aid award that covers full tuition, making the Rice education affordable for a large swath of American families.

What has become increasingly clear across America is that while very substantial resources have been made available to low-income students, students from middle-income families, and even above, are being squeezed and often believe they cannot afford an institution like Rice.

We determined that Rice should lead on this issue by taking, if you will, a step backward into the future. In September, we announced The Rice Investment. We use investment here in several senses. It refers to the original investment that founded Rice over a century ago. It refers to the continued investment that has made our success possible and helped fund generations of deserving students. It refers to our confidence in the necessary investment our alumni and friends will make in the future. And most of all, it refers to our investment in the promising young women and men who, armed with a Rice education, will move our world forward.

The basic elements are relatively simple and transparent. Students from families who earn less than $65,000 (with typical assets) will receive financial aid that covers tuition, fees, room and board. Middle-income students from families earning between $65,000 and $130,000 (with typical assets) will receive a financial aid award that covers full tuition, making the Rice education affordable for a large swath of American families. And families earning between $130,000 and $200,000 will receive a financial aid package in the amount of at least half tuition. Students receiving these awards will not be required to borrow to fund their education.

 We believe this bold step reflects our founding principles. Candidly, taking this step before we have raised all the funding entails some risk. But we have seen time and again our alumni and friends step forward to enable Rice to be at the forefront of education and research, and to enable Rice and our students to contribute to the betterment of our world.

At Rice, we see firsthand the difference that students from every background can make in every human endeavor. It is the very essence of our university that Rice must remain affordable for every student who can earn admission. Why? Because talent deserves opportunity.

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