Affordability initiatives a top priority for the year ahead – An Official Notice from the President

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021

Dear UNT faculty and staff,

You are the backbone of our university and your work has been nothing short of remarkable. Because of you and the planning put into place during this last year, we achieved record enrollment this spring and we are moving forward with bold new plans.

As we navigate a new landscape for higher education that will call on all of us to adapt and innovate faster than ever before, we need to be nimble to address the challenges we are facing, including those related to student debt and college costs. We’ve watched our students struggle to stay in school, we’ve witnessed that many of them have food and housing insecurities, and we’ve seen student debt rise nationally. It’s crystal clear that for the good of our students, to help transform their lives, to maintain a robust economy in our state and beyond, and for our continued success, we have to reverse this downward financial spiral.

During my State of the University Part II address, I announced that UNT will not raise tuition for the third consecutive year, and we have reallocated scholarship awards to give more students, especially first-generation students and those with more need, the opportunity to stay in school. I also unveiled six Affordability Initiatives that will enable us to act as a social mobility elevator for our students and better serve our UNT family, both students and employees. For additional context about each initiative, watch my 15-minute SOTU address or read the transcript.

  • Integrated Student Financial Support Center – We will create an “easy button” Integrated Student Financial Support Center by overhauling processes to provide students with seamless interactions between Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, Student Financial Services, and the Student Money Management Center.
  • Affordable Learning Materials – We are calling on all departments and faculty to review their syllabi and replace costly textbooks and materials with Open Educational Resources and low-cost options whenever possible.
  • Food and Housing Insecurity – We saw how COVID-19 exacerbated food and housing insecurity for many students. To better help our students, we plan to expand housing and dining award programs, clarify the housing waiver process for FTIC commuters, establish a short-term emergency housing program, partner with apartment operators to provide intermediate-term housing, provide campus locker access and nap locations, and establish dining donation programs for peer-to-peer assistance.
  • On-Campus Student Employment – We will conduct a comprehensive analysis of on-campus student wages and hiring processes to identify opportunities to make campus jobs more meaningful to student career progression, improve the process of finding a good match between student skills and departmental needs, make it easier for departments to hire qualified work-study students, and to improve the quality of the experience for our student employees. We also will assess the impact of increasing student wages.
  • Staff Minimum Pay – To ensure all full-time staff are paid a living wage, we will increase the minimum wage to $12/hour March 1 for full-time staff who have worked at UNT for 90 days or more. This is nearly a 30% increase in pay from our current minimum wage for some of our hardest working staff. We’ll further analyze compensation of our employees over the next year to develop a plan that continues to support our lowest paid staff members.
  • SmartDollar – In addition to our financial commitment to students, we are committed to helping full-time employees achieve financial well-being. Financial management tools and budget coaching through SmartDollar will become available to faculty and staff this summer.

In the face of the many challenges this past year, it is more important than ever to emphasize that, first and foremost, we are defined by our values of caring, resilience, and creativity in service to our community.

This plan hits a number of our major strategic objectives in significant and measurable ways. It should improve retention, engage our students more deeply, limit or lower their debt, graduate students faster, improve our student-facing processes, and support the financial well-being of students, faculty, and staff members.

The net effect of our Affordability Initiatives is that we will be able to have a greater impact on the lives of our faculty, staff, and students and meet the needs of Texas and its evolving demographics. I ask you all to join with me in this new effort that will signify our dedication to our campus community and show how we can be a better team together to make UNT a healthy, resilient, and caring institution.

UNT Proud,
Neal Smatresk
UNT President