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Scholarships: Never a greater need

With two years remaining in the $500 million Archway to Excellence campaign, the University is 60 percent of the way to its goal of raising $75 million for endowed scholarships. To recruit top students and help them realize their dreams, UGA supporters have got to step up to the plate.

by Kent Hannon and Sharron Hannon

If the UGA development staff were to list the qualities they look for in a supporter of the University’s $500 million Archway to Excellence capital campaign, Atlanta’s Lee Shaw would likely fit their donor profile to a T.

For starters, he’s a businessman who knows a good investment when he sees one. And with 10 family members who have ties to UGA, he has a vested interest in the welfare of the University. Shaw is also a director of his family’s philanthropic foundation, which has a long history of supporting education in Georgia.

“The Shaw Family Foundation is a group effort that involves my parents, my sisters and brothers-in-law, my brother, my wife, and myself—and education is the cornerstone of the foundation,” says Shaw. “We have previously been involved in supporting character education efforts in kindergarten through 12th grade in northwest Georgia, so doing something for UGA students is a logical extension of those efforts.”

When members of the Shaw foundation met with UGA president Michael F. Adams and senior vice president for external affairs Steve W. Wrigley, they were told that support for scholarships is the most important unfulfilled need of the Archway to Excellence campaign, which ends on June 30, 2008.

“Our goal for scholarship support is $75 million—and we’re roughly 60 -percent of the way to that goal,” says Wrigley. “We’re depending on the generosity of -supporters like the Shaw family to take us the rest of the way.”

The Shaw-White Scholarship Fund will provide need-based scholarships to help create a more diverse student body. “We have made a significant long-term commitment to the University of Georgia,” says Shaw, “and the beauty of creating an endowed scholarship is that it’s sustainable. The interest on that principal will accrue year after year. It’s literally the gift that keeps on giving.”

Endowed scholarships are of paramount importance when it comes to recruiting top students, but development officers say scholarship support is often the toughest challenge fundraisers face in a capital campaign.

“Bricks and mortar is a popular choice with donors because a building has a physical presence—and it usually offers a variety of naming opportunities,” says Wrigley. “Academic units and research centers attract a lot of support because they produce tangible results. But scholarships can be a tough sell—and here in Georgia the HOPE Scholarship complicates the issue.”

The general public has the perception that HOPE—earned by graduating from a Georgia high school with a B average—pays for a student’s entire college education, says Wrigley, whose development staff reminds prospective donors that HOPE only covers tuition and fees. Room and board, transportation, and other living expenses must be covered by the student.

“In reality, HOPE only covers about one-third of what it will cost the average in-state student to attend UGA,” says UGA Provost Arnett C. Mace. “This year, the HOPE Scholarship was worth approximately $5,000, compared to an average cost of $14,000 for in-state students. And, of course, it doesn’t help out-of-state students, whose average costs run around $26,000.”

Getting through college debt-free was a major concern for Melissa Cabinian [see cover], who was honored by the Georgia General Assembly as UGA’s top graduating senior.

“My mom is a single parent and I watched her struggle,” says Cabinian, who hails from Conyers. “It was important to me to be independent financially.”

Cabinian considered Emory and Tulane, but picked UGA because of the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities. She was chosen for the CURO Apprentice Program, which provides a $1,000 stipend, renewable for a second year. Additionally, she was offered a $1,000 Charter Scholarship from UGA. With those two awards—plus the HOPE Scholarship, a Governor’s Scholarship, and a local scholarship—Cabinian was able to piece together a package to cover her costs.

But she is one of a select few. While nearly all freshmen enter UGA with the HOPE Scholarship, additional awards are harder to come by. To receive the Governor’s Scholarship, funded annually by the Georgia General Assembly, a student must be a valedictorian or STAR student from a Georgia high school. The number of freshmen awarded CURO apprenticeships—though expanding each year—is still less than 30. And UGA has only enough funding for about 250 Charter Scholarships for freshmen each year. With entering classes of more than 4,500, that benefits only about five percent of students.

“The HOPE Scholarship is wonderful and it has certainly helped us keep some of Georgia’s top students in-state,” says Nancy McDuff, associate vice president for admissions and enrollment management. “But beyond tuition and fees we’re lacking in scholarships to cover costs of attending UGA for students with real financial need.”

Jason Brown, an out-of-stater who initially had his sights set on Princeton, ended up at UGA for one reason: the Foundation Fellowship. UGA’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarship covers the full estimated cost of attendance and also includes funds for international travel-study. Brown, now a senior, has been to Europe, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Tanzania and South Africa and will make a trip to China with other Fellows during spring break this year.

“I have very good friends who have major scholarships at other institutions and they can’t believe all the opportunities I’ve had as a Foundation Fellow,” says Brown. “The travel component of the Fellowship is unparalleled. A lot of universities have glossy brochures telling you how great their programs are, but UGA really delivers.”

But qualifying for the Foundation Fellowship, awarded to just 20-25 incoming students, requires stratospherically high grades and SAT scores. For the freshman class that entered in fall 2005, the 21 Fellows had an average GPA of 4.13 (on a 4.0 scale) and an average SAT of 1520.

The Fellowship, like all UGA awards available in recent years, is merit-based—meaning financial need does not figure into the decision-making process. But that’s not to say that Foundation Fellows don’t have financial needs.

For Brown, whose mother is a school teacher and father a solo-practice lawyer, financial aid was always a consideration. But it became a necessity this fall when Hurricane Katrina -destroyed their home near the 17th Street canal in New Orleans.

“My parents got out with a car and some clothes,” says Brown. “Our house, which I’d lived in all of my life, is still standing, but it will have to be bulldozed. Without the Foundation Fellowship, I’m not sure if I would have been able to stay in school.”

Attracting and supporting the best students” is one of the six strategic goals of the Archway to Excellence capital campaign.

“Having more scholarship -money—both merit- and need-based—is critical to our ability to successfully recruit an academically talented and diverse student body,” says McDuff. “With the quality of students admitted to UGA, we are competing with some of the best institutions in the country and scholarships are an expectation of these students.”

While private colleges and universities historically have helped students offset their higher tuitions with -attractive scholarships and aid packages, leading state universities are beginning to recognize the importance of need-based aid to address issues of access and diversity.

Consider, for example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has long boasted of its Morehead Scholars Program (similar to UGA’s Foundation Fellowship) but recently added a major needs-based financial aid program. Introduced in 2004, the Carolina Covenant initially guaranteed that UNC would meet, without loans, 100 percent of the financial need of any admitted freshman whose family earns less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2005, the program was expanded to include families earning 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $37,700 for a family of four. And the guarantee applies to students from any state. Almost 10 percent of this year’s freshman class at UNC is receiving aid under the program.

The University of Virginia, home of the prestigious Jefferson Scholars Program, has now launched AccessUVA. The new program not only offers loan-free packages to low-income students, but places caps on need-based loans at approximately 25 percent of the in-state cost of attendance for all students, regardless of their state of residency, thus limiting debt for middle-income families. The university meets all needs above that amount with grants.

At the University of Florida, President Bernie Machen announced new needs-based Florida Opportunity Scholarships in his 2005 State of the University address, saying UF would initially allocate $1 million and seek private funds to supplement the effort.

In his own State of the University address, delivered in January, President Adams called for continued focus on diversifying enrollment and said he believed aggressive recruiting and enhanced scholarships were the best means to achieve that end.

In his address, Adams announced that for at least the next four years $500,000 per year from bookstore revenues will be applied to recruiting and enrolling students who are under-represented within the UGA student body—with particular attention paid to first-generation college students from accredited Georgia high schools. Half of the money will be deposited in an Arch Foundation fund to build a $1 million endowment and half will be used for current needs.

In addition, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund announced in November that UGA will receive a $1.8 million grant to develop and launch a new collaborative pilot program that will focus on the best practices for recruiting, retaining, and graduating Hispanic students. The grant includes $750,000 in scholarships that HSF will award over the next five years to students who want to attend UGA. An earlier $3.5 million grant from The Goizueta Foundation, based in Atlanta, helped pave the way for this latest award, says Arnett Mace, noting that the state of Georgia has the third-fastest growing Hispanic population in the country.

The admissions office plans to use additional private funds available this year to increase the number of Charter Scholarships as well as the more recent $1,000 Georgia Incentive Scholarships, which are offered to admitted students from in-state high schools that have not sent many students to UGA—often -because of cost issues.

UGA’s Office of Financial Aid works to put together assistance packages that may involve federal Pell grants, work-study, and scholarships. But without the infusion of more scholarship money, particularly need-based, options are limited.

“We try our best to put the pieces together, but sometimes there aren’t enough pieces,” says Susan Little, director of financial aid, “and low-income students and their families are often afraid to take on significant debt to finance their education.”

Padmini Jambulapati graduated in December from UGA debt-free. “I never had to take out any loans,” she says proudly. “That was my first goal, to graduate without a lot of debt.”

Jambulapati describes her family background as “rural working-class.” In the mid-’90s, her family moved from Massachusetts to a small town in south Georgia, where her father is a farmer, like his father and generations before him.

“Farming isn’t exactly a money-making career,” she says, “so UGA was the best choice for me since I got the benefit of a large research institution and was able to get most of my costs paid for with the HOPE Scholarship and other assistance.”

Jambulapati’s aid package included a Charter Scholarship, Pell grant, and a local scholarship. Like Melissa Cabinian, she was also chosen to be a CURO Apprentice—and she worked throughout her college career.

Beyond that, Jambulapati accumulated a number of scholarships from academic departments and the Honors Program that enabled her to take advantage of opportunities to enrich her undergraduate experience. The Honors in Washington scholarship, for example, allowed her to intern in the curator’s office of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Like scholarships for recruitment, funds to support such activities primarily come from private sources. One recent gift of note is $1 million from Jane Willson of Albany to create the Willson Honors Scholars Program, which will provide grants for international travel for students in the Honors Program, with a concentration on travel to Africa.

“Jane and her late husband Harry were world travelers, so she understands the benefits to students of opportunities to see other countries and get outside their comfort zone,” says Jere Morehead, vice provost for academic affairs. “The Willsons have been -incredibly generous to UGA through the years and this latest gift is so appreciated.”

Money invested in talented students provides a significant return—to the state and to society—says Morehead, ticking off the post-graduation accomplishments of numerous Honors students and Foundation Fellows he has mentored over the years.

Of the three students noted in this story, Jambulapati, who graduated with a double major in English and journalism, is working as a legislative aide in the public information office of the state senate. After that, she’ll spend two years with Teach for America, then hopes to go to graduate school in American studies and public policy. Ultimately, she wants to be an opinion columnist for a major metropolitan paper.

Jason Brown, who has a double major in political science and biology, has applied to medical school, but says he also may opt for a stint with Teach for America. He wants to be a practicing clinician.

Melissa Cabinian, an environmental health science and microbiology major, plans to pursue her interests in public health, research, and medicine, and she has been accepted to the highly selective MD/PhD program at New York University/Cornell Medical Center. “When I interviewed for the program, I noticed there weren’t many other students from public universities,” she says, “but I think that was actually an advantage for me because I was different.”

What also no doubt played a role were her experiences studying the public health system in the Ukraine, investigating air pollution in the Philippines, and setting up clinics in Nicaragua—all part of travel experiences financed by the Foundation Fellows program after she was named a mid-term Fellow for the last two years of her undergraduate studies.

“Before I got the mid-term Fellowship I had been working every other weekend at a pharmacy,” says Cabinian. “The Fellowship gave me the ability not to work and opened doors to international travel.”

Graduating from UGA with the academic advantages she received—and no debt burden—gives Cabinian the freedom to follow her dreams. “I’m so grateful,” she says, “that I don’t have to constrain decisions about my future because of financial debt from my undergraduate study.”

The question is, how many more Melissa Cabinians will UGA be able to recruit, nurture, and prepare for a bright future without a dramatic infusion of scholarship aid?

“The numbers speak for themselves,” says Steve Wrigley. “Our goal is to raise $75 million for scholarship support—and right now we’re sitting at about $45 million. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

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Click on image to enlarge

Atlanta businessman Lee Shaw is a director of a private foundation that will provide need-based scholarships to help UGA create a more diverse student body. Photo/Leita Cowart.

Padmini Jambulapatl, whose father is a farmer, graduated without debt, thanks to scholarships. Other students aren't so fortunate. Photo/Nancy Evelyn

For Jason Brown, whose mother is a school teacher and faterh is a solo-practice attorney, financial aid to cover the cost of out-of-state tuition was always a consideration. When his family's home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, it became a necessity. Photo/Nancy Evelyn.

Admissions director Nancy McDuff says merit- and need-based scholarships are critical to recruiting an academically talented and diverse student body. Photo/Peter Frey

Morehead is grateful for a $1 million gift from Jane Wilson to create the Wilson Honors Scholars Program. Photo/Dot Paul