Starting with next fall's freshman class, the University of Miami will take steps to meet the financial need of all admitted undergraduate students who live in Florida, with the exception of immigrants who are not here legally.
The school's new plan, called "UM Within Reach," guarantees meeting the "demonstrated financial need" of admitted Floridians who are eligible for federal aid — meaning, they're U.S. citizens. The plan would also apply to all students who are accepted through the early admission program, which is binding.
The plan doesn't mean students' tuition bills will be zero. Many families and students would still need to take out federal loans and pay some money out of pocket.
"Whatever's left over is what we try to meet with grant money from the university," Chris Magnan, senior advisor of financial literacy, said during a Facebook live video announcing the new plan Wednesday evening.
The university starts with the full cost of attendance, which ranges from $62,000 to $74,000 per year and includes tuition, fees, optional room and board, books and supplies, transportation and other personal costs. The school subtracts the contribution families are expected to make based on federal guidelines and whatever government loans or work study programs students might be eligible for and then covers the difference with scholarships or grants.
UM uses what's called "need-blind" admissions. That means students' financial need is not considered when university officials are determining whether they should get in.
A national expert on student financial aid said it's rare for a college or university to both offer "need-blind" admissions and make a commitment to meeting students' "demonstrated financial need." Only 54 colleges and universities in the country do that, according to author and policy analyst Mark Kantrowitz.
"The announcement is so significant because now — at least for the undergraduate students — if they admit you, they're going to give you enough money for you to be able to afford to attend," Kantrowitz said.
But he warned: What the federal government expects students and their families to contribute toward college is often more than they can actually pay.
"It's a very harsh assessment," he said.
Kantrowitz said the plan could lead UM to enroll more low-income students.
"If they see the college is one of the few that actually meets full need, they'll feel it's worth applying for admission," he said.
A 2017 New York Times analysis found more than a third of UM students come from the top 5 percent of wealthiest households nationally.