The University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday announced $5 million worth of new financial aid programs specifically designed to help boost the institution's four-year graduation rates.

Bill Powers, the university president, has set an ambitious goal of increasing the four-year rate to 70 percent by 2016. That's up from about 51 percent in 2011.

David Laude, UT's senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said that if the four new pilot programs prove successful, they could alter the institution's entire financial aid strategy.

Currently, much the school's available financial aid funding is used to attract new students. "If in fact it turns out that these back-end incentivation projects work," he said, "over time we will look at converting money we are using for recruiting students into money we are using to reward students."

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He is particularly enthusiastic about a $2.5 million initiative that will provide individual students with up to $20,000 over four years if they are able to maintain a minimum grade point average, stay on track to graduate on time and participate in certain programs. It is designed almost as a work-study program, but instead of traditional student labor, the program calls for about 15 to 20 hours of work per week participating in activities such as mentoring or tutoring other students, running a student organization or working in a science laboratory.

Another pilot program, which will cost an estimated $500,000 total, will provide a one-time scholarship of $1,000 to students after they complete at least 30 hours, maintain a specified grade point average and complete leadership training in their freshman year.

Another $1 million will be invested in one-time scholarships of up to $1,500 to supplement research, internship and study abroad endeavors of students who already receive existing Presidential Award Scholarships, which are granted to high-performing students who overcome significant adversity, and range from $5,000 to $15,000 per year.

Another $1 million will go toward a summer bridge program that supports incoming students and will help to replace declining support from federal Pell Grants.

The money for the four programs comes from a portion of $13 million in discretionary funds set aside for strategies to help four-year graduation make the nearly 20 percentage point leap by 2016.

"Anytime you can use something like financial aid to prompt students to stop and think differently about how they respond in college, you have no choice but to do so," Laude said. 

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