UNLV’s Tuition+ grants help in-state students

UNLV Photo Services

This file photo shows a view of the UNLV campus.

A 2019 UNLV graduate, Natnael Gebremariam knows the stresses of figuring out how to pay for college.

“I applied for scholarships and grants, basically anything that I could get to help pay for school,” said Gebremariam, who lives in Las Vegas and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. “College costs are so high—the amount of debt you have to get into is ridiculous.”

Announced this month, a new UNLV grant program is aimed at helping Nevada resident students with those financial burdens.

Beginning next fall, eligible state residents enrolled at UNLV will be able to apply for grant money that would pay for 12 credit hours per semester and an extra $1,000 a year for books.

The program, called Tuition+, is only available to students who are Pell Grant-eligible.

“We looked at some existing programs and we repurposed those funds into the Tuition+ program, and I think we have ourselves a winner with this,” said Norm Bedford, executive director of financial aid and scholarships at UNLV. “This will go a long way toward helping students focus on their studies without worrying as much about the financial side of attending the university.”

About $12 million will be available through the program, Bedford said.

According to UNLV’s website, tuition and fees for a Nevada resident undergraduate student are about $3,300 a semester for the 2019-20 school year.

To take advantage of the Tuition+ program, students must maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.25 or higher each semester.

Pell Grants represent government money that typically goes to undergraduate students who display “exceptional financial need,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

For the 2019-20 school year, the maximum Pell Grant award was capped at just under $6,200, according to the department.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, your tuition and fees for 12 credits is $7,000,” Bedford said. “If a student’s total direct costs are $8,000 and their Pell Grant is only for $6,000, UNLV will pay for that $2,000 difference.”

If the Pell Grant accounts for only $1,000, Bedford said, UNLV would put up the rest for the hypothetical $7,000 bill.

“We’re a relatively low-cost school when you talk about in-state tuition and compare that to other schools out there,” Bedford said. “A Pell Grant here, in my opinion, has a bigger bang for the buck than at a higher-cost institution.”

According to UNLV, about a third of the school’s roughly 25,000 undergraduate students receive federal financial aid through Pell Grants. About 41% of all first-year students, the school said, receive Pell Grant money.

Students seeking Tuition+ grants must be admitted to UNLV for the 2020-21 school year by Dec. 1. They also must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form—which is needed to gauge Pell Grant eligibility—by December 1.

“A lot of Pell Grant recipients tend to be first-generation college students,” Bedford said. “There are enough barriers already, so we wanted to make this process easy. We didn’t want there to be an application separate from the FAFSA. If the funds are available, we’ll find you.”

For Gebremariam, who plans to eventually attend medical school to study neurology, it’s too late to apply for the Tuition+ program, but he thinks it’s a good idea.

“Unless you’re really lucky, it’s kind of a never-ending cycle paying for college,” Gebremariam said. “Most people aren’t that lucky.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.