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Dell Scholars in cap and gown closing the graduation gap

Joining Forces to Help Close the Graduation Gap

Susan Dell and Michael Dell

Optimistic. Excited. Humbled. These are just a few of the words to describe our feelings today as we join forces with The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) to build upon a shared commitment: closing the graduation gap for students from low-income families. When we opened the doors of our family foundation in 1999, one of the first big initiatives we launched was the Dell Scholars program. From the very beginning, it has been incredibly important to us that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to graduate from college – and that mission continues to this day.

We have long been proud residents of Austin, Texas. Over the years, we have seen UT Austin invest in their students in so many ways, but one that stands out to us significantly is their support of students from low-income backgrounds. Through the Texas Advance Commitment and other innovative programs, they continue to demonstrate their dedication to ensuring all Texas students can afford a college education at UT Austin.

Which brings us to the partnership we announced today: the launch of a campus-based Dell Scholars model, starting in fall 2020. Together, we want to ensure that ALL Pell Grant students at UT Austin have the support needed to achieve their full potential and earn a degree. Through this partnership with UT Austin, we are collectively setting the goal of increasing six-year graduation rates from 73 percent to 90 percent for UT’s 2,000+ Pell Grant students enrolled each year, with upwards of 14,000 students benefitting from this program over the next 10 years. We have tremendous admiration for UT Austin for enthusiastically committing to such an ambitious goal that will undoubtedly be life-changing for so many deserving students and families, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

Through our 16 years of experience in working with Dell Scholars, we understand the necessity of individualized support to help students from lower-resourced backgrounds reach college graduation. From financial literacy training to emotional support to academic resources, personalized, multi-faceted support can make all the difference for these talented young people – especially for those whose family members haven’t navigated the college experience themselves, or for those without a robust support system.

Though students face many challenges that can derail them from achieving a degree — family commitments, emotional struggles, personal crises, and more — the fact is, these problems are often solvable, with the right resources and timely support. And solving them opens the door to incredible opportunities and a different life trajectory. People who complete their college education average one million more dollars in lifetime earnings than those without a college degree; and with 54 percent lower unemployment rates, they experience greater career stability and earning power.

We started the Dell Scholars program in 2004 with a $20,000 scholarship and just 90 students. Over the years, we have supported 5,000 Dell Scholars throughout the nation who are graduating at a rate four times the national average for low-income students. They are an incredible group of young people who continue to inspire us every day. The Pell Grant students at UT with the greatest financial need will also become Dell Scholars and will be a part of this group, this family, and they will gain the benefits of the program and its network.

Right now, our Dell Scholars program has more than 2,400 graduates throughout the country. In 10 years, this program will result in 10,000+ Dell Scholars graduates in Texas alone! Imagine the impact on our great state. Imagine the network that these alumni will be joining, and the opportunities for mentorship that will be available to future classes. It’s an extraordinary opportunity.

So, yes, we are optimistic, excited, and humbled to be coming alongside our incoming class of Dell Scholars and all Pell Grant students at UT Austin to help them cross the finish line with a degree in hand, equipped and empowered to change the world. Hook ‘em!

Find out more about the Dell Scholars program here.