Opening the door for students

University guarantees to cover tuition and fees for Pell-eligible Minnesota residents.

Two major announcements Friday combined to make last week one to remember for those of us committed to helping ensure access to the best education for a broad cross-section of students.

First we announced that our Founders Opportunity Program, which we introduced last year for freshmen Minnesota residents eligible for federal Pell Grants, is being expanded to include transfer students. Once the program is fully phased in, all Pell-eligible undergraduate students from Minnesota will be guaranteed aid to cover 100 percent of tuition and required fees ó for four years for freshmen and two years for transfer students.

In addition, the University will match whatever Pell award a student receives. That will mean additional help for many students to cover the cost of books and living expenses.

Under the umbrella of the Founders Opportunity Award, weíre expecting that more than 4,500 low- and moderate-income undergraduates from Minnesota ó nearly a third of them nonwhite students ó will benefit from this expanded commitment.

This should provide some help to nearly all University students from families with incomes of less than $50,000 a year. Once fully implemented, this program is expected to pump $22 million into these student-scholarships every year across all our campuses.

Second we announced that, for each of the next two years, 50 to 60 freshmen will receive scholarships that will combine with other forms of assistance (including the Founders Opportunity Award) to cover 90 percent of these studentsí total cost to attend the University, including tuition, fees, books and room and board. The nearly $4 million gift from the William and Nadine McGuire Foundation is a pilot program intended to provide four years of financial help for as many as 120 students.

The McGuire gift also will provide funding to prepare more underserved students for higher education, and for the College of Liberal Arts to expand mentoring, advising and academic experiences for these students so they can succeed at the University.

Together, these two programs underscore our continuing effort ó with assistance from partners like the McGuires ó to help ensure that financial barriers donít come between good students and a chance to study at the University.

Our commitment to preserving access at the University is as strong as that of any university in the country. Thatís important if weíre going to attain our goal of becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world within a decade.

When I went to college 40-plus years ago, my parents would have been hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for my education. I was fortunate to have been supported by a scholarship. Of course, the cost of an education today is far more than it was then.

The College Board reports that tuition and fees at public universities have more than tripled over 30 years, even when adjusted for inflation. Iím pleased that this past year, after several years of double-digit increases for undergraduates, we kept tuition increases at a more reasonable level. And we plan similarly modest, single-digit increases for the coming academic year.

Unfortunately, rising costs have led to increased debt levels for college students. But as unpleasant as that fact is, education is still the best investment students ó and the state and nation ó can make.

Thatís why weíve made scholarships our top fundraising priority. In 2004, we launched a University-wide scholarship drive called the Promise of Tomorrow Campaign, which is raising funds for both need- and merit-based scholarships.

To date, weíve raised more than $107 million toward our $150 million goal. More than 35,000 alumni and friends have contributed. But the most impressive statistic is this one: Weíre now providing scholarships to more than 1,000 more students than we did two years ago before this fundraising initiative began.

While more needs to be done, Iím thrilled with the continuing progress weíre making to help ensure a wide variety of students have access to the best education.

I urge each of you to spread the word about these scholarship programs to your family and friends. You can learn more about these exciting scholarship opportunities by visiting our Web site at www.umn.edu.

Bob Bruininks is president of the University. Please send comments to [email protected]